Astronomers discover merging twin quasars

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Top: Three-color composite image (HSC r, i, and z-band) around C1 and C2, the two reddest sources in the center. The inset shows an expanded view of C1 and C2. Bottom: two-dimensional FOCAS spectrum of C1 (top trace of light) and C2 (bottom trace), created by stacking all available data. Credit: Astrophysical diary letters (2024). DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ad35c7

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Top: Three-color composite image (HSC r, i, and z-band) around C1 and C2, the two reddest sources in the center. The inset shows an expanded view of C1 and C2. Bottom: two-dimensional FOCAS spectrum of C1 (top trace of light) and C2 (bottom trace), created by stacking all available data. Credit: Astrophysical diary letters (2024). DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ad35c7

Using the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, astronomers have detected a pair of high-redshift merging quasars as part of the Hyper SuprimeCam (HSC) Subaru Strategic Program (SPP) study. The accidental discovery is reported in the latest issue of the Astrophysical diary letters.

Quasars, or quasi-stellar objects (QSOs), are active galactic nuclei (AGN) of very high luminosity, which emit electromagnetic radiation observable in radio, infrared, visible, ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths. They are among the brightest and most distant objects in the known universe and serve as fundamental tools for countless studies in astrophysics and cosmology.

For example, quasars have been used to investigate the large-scale structure of the universe and the epoch of reionization. They have also improved our understanding of the dynamics of supermassive black holes and the intergalactic medium.

Recently, a team of astronomers led by Yoshiki Matsuoka of Ehime University in Japan analyzed the deep multiband image data collected by HSC-SPP. While sifting through the data, they happened to discover two merging quasars, which were designated HSC J121503.42−014858.7 (C1) and HSC J121503.55−014859.3 (C2).

According to the study, the two quasars are about 39,000 light-years apart and are likely physically connected. The observations discovered extensive Lyman-alpha emission bridges C1 and C2, as well as several extended structures in other emission lines.

The astronomers highlighted that the bridging emission structures indicate that these two quasars are undergoing a merger. Given that C1 and C2 have a redshift of 6.05, they are therefore the most distant merging quasars detected to date.

The study found that C1 and C2 have resting frame absolute ultraviolet magnitudes of -23.1 and -22.6, respectively. The bolometric brightness of C1 was measured at 6.2 quattuordecillion erg/s, while in the case of C2 it was found to be lower: 4.1 quattuordecillion erg/s. The study also notes that the two quasars most likely have supermassive black holes (SMBH) with similar masses.

In summary, the authors of the paper noted that they are still investigating the merger of the newly discovered quasar and will soon present more detailed results.

“A companion paper will present the gas and dust properties recorded by Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array observations, providing additional evidence and detailed measurements of the merger and also demonstrating that the two sources are not gravitational lens images of a single quasar.’

More information:
Yoshiki Matsuoka et al., Discovery of merging twin quasars at z = 6.05, Astrophysical diary letters (2024). DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ad35c7

Magazine information:
Astrophysical diary letters

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