A new technique using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has allowed astronomers to obtain an unprecedented look at a black hole system in the early universe. This is providing a way for astronomers to look at faint and distant X-ray objects in more detail than had previously been possible.
Astronomers used an alignment in space that shows “gravitational lensing” of light from two objects that are nearly 12 billion light-years away.
The objects in this latest Chandra study are part of a system called MG B2016+112. 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.
Previous studies of radio emission from MG B2016+112 suggested that the system consisted of two separate supermassive black holes, each of which may also be producing a jet. Using a gravitational lensing model based on the radio data, Dan Schwartz of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and his colleagues concluded that the three X-ray sources they detected from the MG B2016+112 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. Previous Chandra measurements of pairs or trios of growing supermassive black holes have generally involved objects much closer to Earth, or with much larger separations between the objects.
A paper describing these results appears in The Astrophysical Journal and a pre-publication version is available here. The authors of the study are Schwartz, Cristiana Spignola (National Institute for Astrophysics), and Anna Barnacka (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics).
Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center controls science from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.