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Black Hole Spews Jets in New Telescope's First Image

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A new array of radio telescopes has captured its first images, showing a huge jet blasting away from a galaxy with a powerful black hole at its heart.

The images, taken by the e-Merlin telescope array in the United Kingdom, depict a jet of radio emissions arcing away from a distant quasar 9 billion light-years from Earth. Quasars the central regions of galaxies dominated by energy-spewing supermassive black holes are some of the brightest objects in the universe.

This particular object is known as the "Double Quasar," because its light gets bent around a foreground galaxy one closer to Earth by the curvature of space. This warping of space results in a "gravitational lens" that produces multiple, magnified images of the same quasar, scientists said. [ New image of the Double Quasar ]

The foreground galaxy responsible for the lensing effect is also visible in some of the new images, just above the lower quasar. The radio light seen in the e-Merlin image suggests that this galaxy, too, harbors a black hole, albeit somewhat smaller.

"This first image of the Double Quasar clearly demonstrates how useful e-Merlin is going to be in our studies of gravitational lenses," Neal Jackson of the University of Manchester said in a statement. "By mapping the bending of light by mass, we will be able to study the way in which both stars and dark matter are distributed in galaxies and how this changes as the universe evolves."

By serving as the U.K.'s national facility for radio astronomy, e-Merlin will allow astronomers to address key questions relating to the origin and evolution of galaxies, stars and planets, researchers said.

The array is now set to produce increasingly detailed radio images of stars and galaxies, using seven telescopes spread up to 137 miles (220 kilometers) apart across the U.K. working as one. Such widely spread telescopes function as a sort of zoom lens, allowing astronomers to study the fine details of astronomical events out toward the edge of the observable universe, researchers said.

"We are very much looking forward to the new scientific results that will flow from the telescope over the coming years," said Simon Garrington, director of e-Merlin at the University of Manchester.