ULAS J1120+0641

Until now I have only posted examples of close and physically connected objects that display greatly discordant redshifts.  But I thought it appropriate that my tenth post be of a single newly discovered object whose redshift puts it in great discord with currently accepted astrophysics and even the Big Bang Theory.

The science journal Nature recently reported that late last year a group of astronomers discovered what they claim to be is the most distant quasar known in the Universe so far.  The quasar, designated ULAS J1120+0641, has a redshift of 7.085 z which reportedly places it at a distance of 12.9 billion light years away!

Objects with extremely high redshifts have their light strongly shifted into the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.  That is why the astronomy team searched through the 20 million objects catalogued by the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS) Large Area Survey (ULAS) to find this needle in a haystack, or in the case of the following image, the tiny red dot in the center:

ULAS J1120+0641 (Credit:ESO/UKIDSS/SDSS)

The redshift of ULAS J1120+0641 was measured with the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph (FORS2) on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS) and Gemini Near-Infrared Spectrograph (GNIRS).  That its redshift could be measured at all is something of a minor miracle considering the supposed distance of the quasar.  If an object really is located almost 13 billion light years away it would have to be exceptionally bright for enough of its light to reach us to allow for the analysis of its spectrum.  Apparently the team of astronomers thought the same thing because they reported that the brightness of the object is 63 trillion times that of our sun!  That is so bright that if this object were located at the distance of Alpha Centauri (4.37 ly) it would still appear over 800 times brighter than our sun!  This is an absolutely incredible amount of light when you consider Alpha Centauri is located over 276,000 times further away from us than our sun.  What could possibly generate the energy required to power such an unimaginably bright object?  The answer, according to the scientists, is a supermassive black hole with a mass equal to 2 billion of our suns.  If volume were equal to mass that many suns would take up every cubic inch of our solar system from the center to out beyond the orbit of Jupiter!  Of course any object that massive and emitting that much light must also project a tremendous radiation field.  In this case the astronomy team predicts an ionized near zone radius of 6.2 million light years.  That is almost two and a half times the distance between the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies!

All of these truly astronomical numbers are dazzling in their scope and imagination.  They describe a quasar whose very existence really is almost beyond the scope of our physics and the comprehension of our minds.  But they also describe an object that cannot exist according to the currently accepted version of the Big Bang Theory.

This image was downloaded and resized from the Wikipedia article for “Reionization”.  I find the sentence at the bottom very telling.

According to the accepted interpretation of the redshift of ULAS J1120+0641 this quasar existed just 770 million years after the Big Bang.  This is during a period called the Epoch of Reionization which supposedly occurred between 150 million and one billion years after the Big Bang.  It is theorized that early in this period the first stars and quasars were formed. These were followed by the formation of galaxies starting approximately 500 million years after the Big Bang. However, 770 million years is not enough time for the formation of a supermassive black hole with a mass of 2 billion suns according to the Eddington Limit.

An enormously powerful quasar may make for intriguing headlines, but there are no accepted physics that can account for the existence of such an object.  The astronomy team and the scientific community in general were quite surprised at these results and continue to struggle for an answer that will explain the formation of an object, over 12 million times brighter than a Type Ia supernova, so early in the formation of the universe.

The first thing that scientists should do is step back and question the wisdom of unblinkingly accepting redshifts as measurements of distance and cosmic expansion.  It is this blind acceptance that has forced them to resort to creating such exotic objects as ULAS J1120+0641 in order to try to continue to make sense of the Big Bang Theory.  But instead they will probably just do something like change the Eddington Limit, just as they have changed the Hubble Constant over the years to suit their needs.

Eventually though objects will be found with redshifts so high that scientists will no longer be able to explain away their non-cosmological origins.  One way or the other they are going to have to change the way they view the universe.  In the meantime I will continue to post the latest discoveries, and discordancies, and continue to welcome and encourage your input…as always.

Thanks for reading #10!


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Responses to “ULAS J1120+0641”

  1. Jean Tate says:

    This quasar is, as you say, quite remarkable. And in the ~two years since the VLT spectroscopy was published, it seems no quasar with a higher redshift has been found.

    You write, “However, 770 million years is not enough time for the formation of a supermassive black hole with a mass of 2 billion suns according to the Eddington Limit.” While the ‘how’ of a supermassive black hole forming in only ~800 million years is, as yet, a question without an answer, I don’t think the Eddington limit has much to do with it (the ‘how’; the Eddington limit puts severe constraints on how an incredibly bright object can be so small, but that’s a challenge for all models of all quasars, not just this one).

    There’s an astrobites post on this object, “A Paradigm-Shattering Discovery From the High Redshift Universe” (http://astrobites.org/2011/07/02/a-paradigm-shattering-discovery-from-the-high-redshift-universe/ ). In it Nathan points out that the lack of any detectable light blue-ward of the (redshifted) Lyman-alpha line implies this quasar is in an environment in which hydrogen is (largely) neutral. That’s quite unlike anything so far discovered at redshifts much less than ~7, so if the redshift of ULAS J1120+0641 is discordant (in the Arpian sense), there’s a new mystery.

    • sbsims says:

      The Eddington Limit constrains the accretion rate of black holes, this is well documented in scientific literature.

      • Jean Tate says:

        Indeed it does. However, details such as composition (some plasmas can ‘cool’ more efficiently than others), angular momentum (affects things like the thickness of the accretion disk, and so the anisotropy of the radiation field), magnetic fields (apparently critical for the creation of the polar jets, and thus how effectively infalling matter can ‘cool’), the number and nature of black hole mergers in the history of SMBHs (as far as I know, mergers of SMBH are essentially blind to the intensity of electromagnetic radiation from the accretion disks), and duty cycle (how often SMBH accretion disks are ‘on’ vs ‘off’) are all important as well.

Leave a Comment