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Animations: "X-ray Magnifying Glass" Enhances View of Distant Black Holes
A Tour of MG B2016+112
(Credit: NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)
[Runtime: 02:55]

With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Astronomers have made an unprecedented look at X-rays from a black hole system in the early universe, using a natural lens in space. This new technique, using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, is now gathering details about black holes that are normally too distant to study using existing X-ray telescopes.

Astronomers used a phenomenon known as "gravitational lensing" to view this system in extraordinary detail. This lensing occurs when the path taken by light from distant objects is bent by a large concentration of mass, such as a galaxy, that lies along the line of sight. This effect can magnify and amplify the light by large amounts and create duplicate images of the same object.

The X-rays detected by Chandra were emitted by this system when the Universe was only 2 billion years old compared to its current age of nearly 14 billion years.

The latest research builds on earlier work using radio observations of this system, which found evidence for a pair of rapidly growing supermassive black holes separated by only about 650 light-years. They found that both of the black hole candidates possibly have jets.

Using a model based on the radio data, the new team concluded that the three X-ray sources they detected from the system must have resulted from the lensing of two distinct objects. These two X-ray-emitting objects are likely a pair of growing supermassive black holes or a growing supermassive black hole and a jet. The estimated separation of these two objects is consistent with the radio work.

The gravitational lens amplifies the light from these far-flung objects that otherwise would be too faint to detect. The detected X-ray light from one of the objects may be up to 300 times brighter than it would have been without the lensing.

The present result is important because it provides crucial information about the growth of black holes in the early universe and the possible existence of multiple black hole systems. The boosts from gravitational lensing may enable researchers to estimate how many systems containing two supermassive black holes have separations small enough to produce gravitational waves observable in the future with space-based detectors.

A Quick Look at MG B2016+112
(Credit: NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)
[Runtime: 00:45]

Astronomers used an "X-ray magnifying glass" to study a distant system.

Chandra data and this tool reveal the presence of two distant objects.

These objects are either two giant black holes or a giant black hole and jet.

This result teaches us about black hole growth in the early universe.

Return to: "X-ray Magnifying Glass" Enhances View of Distant Black Holes (August 31, 2021)