Using the Gemini North telescope in Hawai`i, an international team of astronomers from Brazil, Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK has discovered the most distant radio galaxy to date, at 12.5 billion light years, when the Universe was just 7% of its current age.
The team used spectroscopic data from the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS-N) to measure a redshift of z = 5.72 for the radio galaxy identified as TGSS J1530+1049. This is the largest redshift of any known radio galaxy. The redshift of a galaxy tells astronomers its distance because galaxies at greater distances move away from us at higher speeds, and this motion causes the galaxy’s light to shift farther into the red. Because light has a finite speed and takes time to reach us, more distant galaxies are also seen at earlier times in the history of the Universe.
The study was led by graduate students Aayush Saxena (Leiden Observatory, Netherlands) and Murilo Marinello (Observatório Nacional, Brazil), and the observations were obtained through Brazil’s participation in Gemini. “In the Gemini spectrum of TGSS J1530+1049, we found a single emission line of hydrogen, known as the Lyman alpha. The observed shift of this line allowed us to estimate the galaxy’s distance,” explains Marinello.
The relatively small size of the radio emission region in TGSS J1530+1049 indicates that it is quite young, as expected at such early times. Thus, the galaxy is still in the process of assembling. The radio emission in this kind of galaxy is powered by a supermassive black hole that is sucking in material from the surrounding environment. This discovery of the most distant radio galaxy confirms that black holes can grow to enormous masses very quickly in the early Universe.
The measured redshift of TGSS J1530+1049 places it near the end of the Epoch of Reionization, when the majority of the neutral hydrogen in the Universe was ionized by high-energy photons from young stars and other sources of radiation. “The Epoch of Reionization is very important in cosmology, but it is still not well understood,” said Roderik Overzier, also of Brazil’s Observatorio Nacional, and the Principal Investigator of the Gemini program. “Distant radio galaxies can be used as tools to find out more about this period.”