A supermassive black hole emitting a record setting X-ray jet some 12.4 billion light years from Earth has been discovered by NASA.
This is the most distant X-ray jet ever observed by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and gives astronomers a glimpse into the explosive activity associated with the growth of supermassive black holes in the early universe.
The jet was produced by a quasar named GB 1428+4217.
Giant black holes at the centers of galaxies can pull in matter at a rapid rate producing the quasar phenomenon, the observatory said in a statement.
The energy released as particles fall toward the black hole generates intense radiation and powerful beams of high-energy particles that blast away from the black hole at nearly the speed of light.
These particle beams can interact with magnetic fields or ambient photons to produce jets of radiation.
"We're excited about this result not just because it's a record holder, but because very few X-ray jets are known in the early universe," said Teddy Cheung of the National Academy of Sciences.
As the electrons in the jet fly away from the quasar, they move through a sea of background photons left behind after the Big Bang.
When a fast-moving electron collides with one of these so-called cosmic microwave background photons, it can boost the photon's energy into the X-ray band.
"Since the brightness of the jet in X-rays depends, among other things, on how fast the electrons are moving away from the black hole, discoveries like the jet in GB 1428 tell us something about the environment around supermassive black holes and their host galaxies not that long after the Big Bang," said co-author Lukasz Stawarz from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, in Kanagawa, Japan.
Because the quasar is seen when the universe is at an age of about 1.3 billion years, less than 10 per cent of its current value, the cosmic background radiation is a thousand times more intense than it is now.
This makes the jet much brighter, and compensates in part for the dimming due to distance.
Prior to the discovery of the jet in GB 1428, the most distant X-ray jet known was 12.2 billion light years away, and another is located at about 12 billion light years.