NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has identified the farthest gamma-ray blazars.
These are a type of galaxy whose intense emissions are powered by supersized black holes.
Light from the most distant object began its journey to us when the universe was 1.4 billion years old, or nearly 10 percent of its present age.
Blazars constitute roughly half of the gamma-ray sources detected by Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT).
Astronomers think their high-energy emissions are powered by matter heated and torn apart as it falls from a storage, or accretion, disk toward a supermassive black hole with a million or more times the sun’s mass.
A small part of this infalling material becomes redirected into a pair of particle jets, which blast outward in opposite directions at nearly the speed of light.
Blazars appear bright in all forms of light, including gamma rays, the highest-energy light, when one of the jets happens to point almost directly toward us.
Previously, the most distant blazars detected by Fermi emitted their light when the universe was about 2.1 billion years old.
Earlier observations showed that the most distant blazars produce most of their light at energies right in between the range detected by the LAT and current X-ray satellites, which made finding them extremely difficult.