Webb’s stunning view of a distant bejeweled quasar

A small image of a galaxy distorted by gravitational lensing into a dim ring. At the top of the ring are three very bright spots with diffraction spikes coming off them, right next to each other: these are copies of a single quasar in the lensed galaxy, duplicated by the gravitational lens. In the centre of the ring, the elliptical galaxy doing the lensing appears as a small blue dot. The background is black and empty. Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, A. Nierenberg.

The James Webb Space Telescope has captured a breathtaking image of the quasar RX J1131-1231, located about six billion light-years away in the constellation Crater.

This quasar is one of the most impressive examples of gravitational lensing, where a foreground galaxy distorts the light from the quasar into a bright arc and creates four separate images of the object.

Gravitational lensing, first predicted by Einstein, acts like a natural telescope, allowing scientists to study areas near black holes in distant quasars.

When light from a distant object passes close to a massive object like a galaxy, it follows the curved space around it, making the light appear to bend.

This effect can magnify faraway astronomical objects, enabling astronomers to observe things that would otherwise be too faint or distant.

Studying the X-ray emissions from quasars can reveal the speed at which the central black hole is spinning, providing valuable insights into how black holes grow over time.

If a black hole primarily grows through galaxy collisions and mergers, it forms a stable disk of material, leading to a rapidly spinning black hole.

However, if it grows through many small accretion episodes, it gathers material from random directions.

In the case of RX J1131-1231, observations indicate that its black hole is spinning at more than half the speed of light. This suggests that the black hole has grown through mergers rather than by pulling in material from various directions.

This image was captured using Webb’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) as part of a program to study dark matter, which is an invisible form of matter making up most of the universe’s mass.

Webb’s observations of quasars help astronomers explore the nature of dark matter on smaller scales than ever before.

The stunning view of RX J1131-1231 not only showcases the incredible capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope but also offers new insights into the mysteries of black holes and dark matter, bringing us closer to understanding the universe’s hidden secrets.