This jet from a monster black hole is so huge it dwarfs our Milky Way galaxy

Astronomers have spotted a distant jet-shooting supermasive black hole known as PJ352-15 for short. (Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXO/JPL/T. Connor; Optical: Gemini/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA; Infrared: W.M. Keck Observatory; Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss)

A space telescope spotted a distant supermassive black hole spurting an X-ray jet.

Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory found the jet coming from an object roughly 12.7 billion light-years from Earth, which is pretty early in the universe's 13.77-billion-year-old history. If confirmed, this would be one of the farthest jet-shooting objects of its kind yet known.

The jet comes from an object known as a quasar, which are active galactic nuclei that feed off of supermassive black holes and can emit extraordinary amounts of energy. Astronomers hope that by studying the jet, called PSO J352.4034-15.3373 (PJ352-15 for short), they can learn how huge black holes came together so early in the universe's history. 

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"Despite their powerful gravity and fearsome reputation, black holes do not inevitably pull in everything that approaches close to them," NASA explained in a statement March 9. 

"Material orbiting around a black hole in a disk needs to lose speed and energy before it can fall farther inwards to cross the so-called event horizon, the point of no return. Magnetic fields can cause a braking effect on the disk as they power a jet, which is one key way for material in the disk to lose energy and, therefore, enhance the rate of growth of black holes," the statement continued.

Astronomers peered at PJ325-15 for three days using Chandra, which is optimized for X-ray observations. The jet stretches about 1.5 times as long as the Milky Way, measuring a distance of roughly 160,000 light-years away from the quasar. (The Milky Way is roughly 100,000 light-years across.)

The jet far surpasses the longest one ever spotted from the first billion years after the Big Bang that formed the universe which was a relative squeaker at only 5,000 light-years in length, NASA said. PJ325-15 is also roughly 300 million light-years further from Earth than any jet ever before spotted.

"The length of this jet is significant because it means that the supermassive black hole powering it has been growing for a considerable period of time," said study co-author Eduardo Bañados, a staff astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, in the same statement. 

"Around supermassive black holes," stated study leader Thomas Connor, a NASA postdoctoral fellow at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, "we think jets can take enough energy away so material can fall inward and the black hole can grow."

A paper based on the research is available on the preprint website Arxiv and has also been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: