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First e-MERLIN image impresses
Posted: 09 December 2010

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The UK's powerful new array of radio telescopes has released its first impressive image of the Double Quasar that demonstrates the curvature of space.

The field-of-view of the Double Quasar, as seen by e-MERLIN. It is a false-colour image where the range of colours represents the brightness of the radio emission. Image: Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester.

E-MERLIN comprises seven telescopes spread across 220 kilometres, with Jodrell Bank's Lovell telescope at the project's heart, combined to produce a powerful telescope capable of probing the distant Universe.

The first e-MERLIN image of a nine billion year distant quasar, a galaxy powered by a super-massive black hole that is ejecting jets at nearly the speed of light, demonstrates how light from the quasar has been bent around a foreground galaxy by the curvature of space, consistent with Einstein's theory that the mass of a galaxy or black hole can cause space to become curved.

In this case, the intervening galaxy lies 3.5 billion light years away, and may too host a black hole. The enhanced radio brightness in the jet seen arching to the left of the new image results from the jet ploughing through matter that exists around the distant quasar.

Wide-field composite e-MERLIN (radio) and Hubble Space Telescope (optical) image of the Double Quasar. The lensed quasar images are visible as the two bright objects, one above the other, separated by about 6 arcseconds. The radio emission seen by e-MERLIN is produced by the central black hole in both lensed images. The image also shows radio emission thought to be associated with the black hole at the centre of the lensing galaxy (just above the lower quasar image) and the radio jet arcing away from the upper quasar image. The head of the counter jet which is ejected in the opposite direction is also visible to the right. Image: Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester.

E-MERLIN is lead by the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank and funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). "E-MERLIN is a flagship project for the UK in radio astronomy, a scientific field where the UK has a rich legacy, a strong future, and is proud to be the home of some of the very best researchers in the world," says STFC's John Womersley. "The project has attracted more than 300 astronomers from over 100 institutes in more than 20 countries who will use the power of this 'super telescope' to conduct major scientific legacy projects."

E-MERLIN will continue to produce detailed radio images to probe star birth and death, black holes, galaxy evolution, pulsars, and young planets forming around nearby stars.