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B3 0727+409 Animations
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Tour of B3 0727+409
Quicktime MPEG With closed-captions (at YouTube)

Astronomers have used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory to discover a jet from a very distant supermassive black hole being illuminated by the oldest light in the Universe. This discovery shows that black holes with powerful jets may be more common than previously thought in the first few billion years after the Big Bang.

The light detected from this jet, found in the system known as B3 0727+409, was emitted when the Universe was only 2.7 billion years old, or a fifth of its present age. At this point, the intensity of the cosmic microwave background radiation, the glow left over from the Big Bang, was much greater than it is today.

The significance of the discovery of an X-ray jet in B3 0727+409 is heightened because astronomers essentially stumbled across this jet while observing a galaxy cluster in the field. Historically, such distant jets have been discovered in radio waves first, and then followed up with X-ray observations to look for high-energy emission. If bright X-ray jets can exist with very faint or undetected radio counterparts, it means that there could be many more of them out there because astronomers haven't been systematically looking for them.

Jets in the early Universe such as B3 0727+409 give astronomers a way to probe the growth of black holes at a very early epoch in the cosmos.
[Runtime: 02:25]

(Credit: NASA/CXC/A. Hobart)

Return to B3 0727+409 (February 16, 2016)