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Jeweled ring floating in the cosmos captured by Webb

The latest achievement in astronomy, captured by the Webb telescope, reveals a breathtaking view of a rare cosmic phenomenon: the gravitational lensing of RX J1131-1231, a quasar located six billion light-years away.

This visually captivating display, captured in the constellation named Crater, deserves our admiration and is a testament to the dedication and skill of the team of astronomers behind it.

Gravitational lensing: Nature’s own telescope

Long before telescopes were invented, nature had its own way of magnifying celestial bodies.

Gravitational lensing, predicted first by none other than Albert Einstein in his theory of general relativity, acts as a natural telescope, bending and magnifying distant light sources.

This fascinating phenomenon occurs because any matter in the universe warps the space around it, with the larger masses causing a more visible distortion.

When light passes near these high-mass objects, such as galaxies or black holes, it follows this warped space and appears to deviate from its original path, creating multiple images or even rings known as “Einstein rings.”

This natural magnification allows astronomers to observe distant galaxies and stars that would otherwise be too faint to see, providing a unique window into the far reaches of the cosmos and the history of the universe.

Unique quasar RX J1131-1231

RX J1131-1231 is way more than just another quasar — it’s one of the best-lensed ones discovered until now. The foreground galaxy misshapes the quasar’s image into a bright arc, resulting in not just one, but four images.

What’s even more intriguing is that the quasar’s X-ray emission study could provide clues about the spin speed of the black hole at its center. This could reveal the secret on how black holes evolve over time. Isn’t that mind-boggling?

Quick trivia: If a black hole grows predominantly via galaxy collisions and mergers, it ends up with a fast spinning black hole due to the conservation of angular momentum.

Conversely, random, smaller accretion episodes lead to a slower and less stable spin.

Scientists have recently detected that the black hole in RX J1131-1231 spins at over half the speed of light, suggesting that this black hole grew through multiple smaller galaxy mergers rather than random accretions.

This discovery helps us understand the growth of black holes and provides valuable insights on the dynamic history of the galaxies involved.

Understanding quasars

A quasar is an extremely bright and distant object in the universe. It looks like a star, but it is much more powerful. Quasars are powered by supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies.

When gas and dust fall into these black holes, they heat up and emit intense radiation. This process creates the bright light we see from Earth.

Quasars were first discovered in the 1960s. Astronomers were puzzled by their unusual properties. They noticed that quasars emitted large amounts of radio waves. Later, they found that quasars also emit X-rays and ultraviolet light.

The light from quasars travels billions of light-years to reach us. This means we see them as they were in the distant past. Studying quasars helps scientists learn about the early universe. Quasars are among the oldest and most distant objects we can observe.

Quasars can outshine entire galaxies. They are the most luminous objects in the universe. Some quasars are thousands of times more luminous than our Milky Way galaxy.

Despite their brightness, quasars are tiny compared to their host galaxies. A quasar’s size is about the same as our solar system. The energy they produce comes from a small region around the black hole.

Quasars also help scientists understand black holes. The intense radiation from quasars provides clues about the behavior of matter near black holes.

Dark Matter and RX J1131-1231

Webb’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) clicked this fascinating image, as part of a research program to delve into the enigma of dark matter.

This unseen form of matter forms the universe’s mass and acts as the cosmic glue holding everything together.

Observations of quasars, particularly RX J1131-1231, are paving the way for astronomers to probe into the secrets of dark matter at unprecedented scales.

The high-energy output of quasars illuminates the surrounding dark matter, providing researchers with incredibly valuable data points.

Redefining Our Understanding of the Universe

Discoveries made by the Webb telescope, such as RX J1131-1231, are revolutionizing our perspective towards the cosmos and its countless mysteries.

It brings to light the infinite potential of human curiosity and ingenuity. Each revelation answers existing queries, while simultaneously sparking a new wave of exploration.

Who knows? The next game-changing discovery could be just around the corner, offering us a closer look into our cosmos’s hidden architecture and potentially shaking the fundamental principles of physics as we know them.


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