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Candidate blazar with a 11 billion solar mass black hole detected

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Posted January 30, 2015

Supermassive black holes can become really large. The name itself implies that the object is big, but sometimes words like ‘big’ or even ‘supermassive’ seem to understate the actual fact. That is also the case for a new candidate quasi-stellar radio source (or blazar) discovered by astronomers just last year.

Artist's impression of a hyperluminous quasar surrounded by a thick accretion disc with two powerful jets. This object may be very similar to newly discovered J013127.34–032100.1. Image credit: NASA

Artist’s impression of a hyperluminous quasar surrounded by a thick accretion disc with two powerful jets. This object may be very similar to newly discovered J013127.34–032100.1. Image credit: NASA

The object with quite a long numerical name – J013127.34–032100.1 – was discovered in 2014 when analyzing photometric data provided by SDSS and WISE observations. This particular blazar is located at a redhift z=5.18, or, according to astrophysical calculations, at a distance of approximately 12.7 billion light years. In a new study published on arXiv.org this week, the authors note that currently there are three blazars known to be located further than z > 5. Typically to such class of objects, this one also hosts a supermassive black hole generating a very strong radio emissions.

“The radio to optical flux ratio (i.e. the radio-loudness) of the source is large, making it a promising blazar candidate”, the team wrote in the article. According to their estimates, the mass of the supermassive black hole contained in J013127.34–032100.1 equals about 1.1 x 1010, or 11 billion solar masses.

It is interesting to note, that this black hole is not the largest known to astronomers. The largest of them, S5 0014+813, is more than 3.6 times bigger; but still, the newest “contestant” should earn a honorable seventh place according to its size.

How a black hole can grow this large? The answer may be relatively simple (although not completely proven): the more matter you feed to them, the bigger they get. Still, the scientists are not quite sure about how quick the process of growth had to be, as the observed redshift implies that the light of the blazar reaching us was generated when the Universe was only 1.1 billion years old. On astrophysical scale this is a very constrained period, at least for black holes. The scientists expect to gather more data explaining this phenomenon in the forthcoming studies.

The astronomers say they cannot ascertain (yet) if J013127.34–032100.1 can be classified as a blazar in a strict astrophysical sense. However, such fact is quite likely. “There may be other sources of radio emissions similar to this object sharing the same intrinsic properties in the same sky area”, the team wrote. These currently undetected sources are expected to be discovered in the future NuSTAR surveys.

Written by Alius Noreika

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