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MDxHealth Reports Financial Year 2020 Results and Provides Outlook for 2021

NEWS RELEASE – REGULATED INFORMATION 3 MARCH 2021, 07:00 A.M. CET Conference call with Q&A today at 08:00 CET / 07:00 GMT, details provided below IRVINE, CA, and HERSTAL, BELGIUM – March 3, 2021 – MDxHealth SA (Euronext: MDXH.BR), a commercial-stage innovative molecular diagnostics company, today announced its financial results for the year ended December 31, 2020 and provided a business update and outlook for 2021. Michael K. McGarrity, CEO of MDxHealth, commented: “While 2020 has indeed presented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact on the market, we have made significant progress based on our commitment to execute on our stated goals of advancing our turnaround of every operating discipline within the business. “We believe this progress is evidenced by the following: Infusion of $14 million in growth capital in 2020 from funds managed by MVM Partners LLP, followed by our January 2021 successful financing of $30 million, with broad support from U.S. and European investors including continued support from our Reference shareholders, MVM, Valiance and BioVest;SelectMDx for Prostate Cancer test included in the 2020 National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Guidelines for Prostate Cancer Early Detection;Completed the fourth quarter with the second consecutive sequential increase in billable volume for both its ConfirmMDx® and SelectMDx® tests;Continued focus on operating discipline resulting in an improvement in collections and capital allocation; andInitiation and advancement of our best-in-class Prostate Cancer menu expansion into Active Surveillance with our renewed engagement and focus on research and development. “We believe these results represent clear validation that the fundamental growth drivers and value that were communicated prior to the pandemic have been instilled in our organization. Furthermore, the redesigned approach of our salesforce to remain highly engaged and utilize our advanced digital marketing strategy with the urology community, will become evident as the pandemic lifts and patient flow returns.” Highlights for the quarter and full year ended December 31, 2020 ConfirmMDx ·For the fourth quarter ended December 31, 2020, billable test volume was up 3% to 3,704 versus 3,579 for the third quarter ended September 30, 2020 For the year ended December 31, 2020, billable test volume was down 18% to 14,945 versus 18,195 for 2019 SelectMDx SelectMDx for Prostate Cancer test has been included in the 2020 National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Guidelines for Prostate Cancer Early DetectionFor the fourth quarter ended December 31, 2020, billable test volume was up 6% to 3,472 versus 3,267 for the third quarter ended September 30, 2020 For the year ended December 31, 2020, billable test volume was down 39% to 13,201 versus 21,699 for 2019 Summary of Billable Test Volume by Product Product Year Ended December 31,20202019% ChangeConfirmMDx 14,94518,195(18)%SelectMDx13,20121,699(39)% Product Quarter Ended December 31,20202019% ChangeConfirmMDx 3,7045,158(28)%SelectMDx3,4724,898(29)% Financial Highlights for the year ended December 31, 2020 Total revenue for 2020 of $18.5 million, down 16% from pro-forma 2019 revenues of $21.9 million and up 57% from 2019 reported revenues of $11.8 million (refer to press release issued on February 26, 2020 for details on prior year one-time adjustment)Operating expenses for 2020 were $35.2 million, an improvement of $8.0 million compared to operating expenses of $43.2 million for 2019. Excluding non-cash expenses such as depreciation, amortization and stock-based compensation, operating expenses for 2020 were $30.3 million, an improvement of $2.4 million, or 7%, over 2019Cash and cash equivalents of $16.0 million as of December 31, 2020. In January 2021, the Company successfully completed a EUR 25 million (approximately $30.4 million) capital increase, bringing pro-forma year-end cash and cash equivalents to $46.4 million Financial review for the year ended December 31, 2020 USD in thousands (except per share data) UnauditedYear Ended December 31,20202019 Pro-forma120192020 vs. 2019 Pro-forma12020 vs. 2019Product revenue 18,064 21,52111,443(16)%58%Royalties, patents and other income39634234216%16%Total Revenue18,46021,86311,785(16)%57% Cost of goods(10,416)(11,755)(11,755)(11)%(11)%Gross Profit8,04410,10830(20)%–Operating expenses(35,167)(43,199)(43,199)(19)%(19)%Operating loss(27,123)(33,091)(43,169)(18)%(37)%Net loss(28,662)(33,022)(43,100)(13)%(33)%Basic and diluted loss per share(0.34)(0.53)(0.69)(35)%(50)% 1Excluding the effect of change of estimate of $10.1 million (refer to February 26, 2020 press release for details) Total revenue for 2020 was $18.5 million compared to total revenue of $11.8 million for 2019. Revenues for 2019 were impacted by a one-time adjustment of $10.1 million, which was primarily related to management’s decision to reduce the amount of time it carries accounts receivable from 24 months to 12 months. This adjustment is further detailed in the 2019 year-end results press release dated February 26, 2020. Excluding this one-time adjustment, 2020 revenues would have declined 16% compared to 2019 pro-forma revenues of $21.9 million, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gross profit on products and services for 2020 was $8.0 million versus a gross profit of $0 for 2019. Excluding the 2019 one-time adjustment, gross profit on products and services for 2020 decreased 20% compared to pro-forma 2019 gross profit. This decline was primarily the result of the decline in revenues. Total operating expenses in 2020 were $35.2 million, an improvement of $8.0 million over 2019. Excluding non-cash expenses such as depreciation, amortization and stock-based compensation, operating expenses for 2020 were $30.3 million, an improvement of $2.4 million, or 7%, over 2019. Operating loss for 2020 was $27.1 million, a decrease of $16.0 million compared to an operating loss of $43.2 million for 2019. Excluding the 2019 one-time adjustment, operating loss for 2020 decreased 18% compared to 2019 pro-forma operating loss, primarily the result of strong operating discipline as well as a decrease in non-cash expenses of depreciation and amortization. Cash collections from ConfirmMDx and SelectMDx amounted to $21.0 million, a decrease of 12% compared to 2019, despite larger decreases in billable volume due to COVID-19. Total cash burn for 2020 was $22.9 million, representing a reduction of $0.6 million in cash burn compared to $23.5 million in 2019. Cash and cash equivalents as of December 31, 2020 were $16.0 million. Outlook for 2021 Michael K. McGarrity, CEO of MDxHealth, commented: “While the dynamics of the pandemic make it difficult to provide guidance at this time, we are confident that we have advanced adoption of our menu of SelectMDx and ConfirmMDx into the urology market, and that adoption of our product menu as the standard of care in the diagnostic pathway of patients being worked up and suspected of prostate cancer, is taking hold and will drive long term growth beyond 2021. “In addition, we are now focused on advancing our menu into Active Surveillance (AS) of prostate cancer with the development of our AS-MDx and MonitorMDx tests. These two menu additions would provide clinically actionable results for clinicians evaluating patients for active surveillance. This is a well characterized market opportunity to monitor patients in active surveillance where the standard of care is an annual biopsy. We are confident that we can deliver a less invasive actionable solution. “We believe these initiatives, coupled with our current menu, will allow MDxHealth to be the only company in the space that affords clinicians a menu of advanced tests to take a patient from positive PSA screen all the way through the diagnostic pathway continuum of care with clinical confidence. “We are committed to continue to advance the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer and our commitment to growth and value creation for all of our stakeholders, including patients, customers, employees and shareholders.” Subsequent Events On January 21, 2021, the Company announced the successful pricing of its capital increase with the offering of new ordinary shares. The Company raised EUR 25.0 million (approximately USD 30.4 million) in gross proceeds by means of a private placement of 27,777,777 new shares (being approximately 30.63% of the Company’s outstanding shares) at an issue price of EUR 0.90 per share through an accelerated bookbuild offering. The net proceeds of this capital increase will be used to drive further commercial focus and execution, to advance the Company’s corporate strategy and for general corporate purposes. Conference Call Michael K. McGarrity, Chief Executive Officer and Ron Kalfus, Chief Financial Officer, will host a conference call and Q&A session today at 08:00am CET / 07:00am GMT. The call will be conducted in English and a replay will be available for 30 days. To participate in the conference call, please select your phone number below and use the Conference ID: 7873716. UK / International: 0800 358 6377 / 323-289-6576 Belgium: 0800 58228 The Netherlands: 0800 023 1436 US: 800-437-2398 Webcast: http://public.viavid.com/index.php?id=143771 To ensure a timely connection, it is recommended that users register at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduledstart time. 2021 Reporting Calendar April 21: Q1-2021 business updateApril 28: Online publication of Annual Report 2020May 27: Annual General MeetingAugust 26: Publication of H1-2021 resultsOctober 21: Q3-2021 business update About MDxHealth MDxHealth is a commercial-stage, innovative healthcare company that provides actionable molecular diagnostic information to personalize the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The Company’s tests are based on proprietary genetic, epigenetic (methylation) and other molecular technologies and assist physicians with the diagnosis of urologic cancers, prognosis of recurrence risk, and prediction of response to a specific therapy. The Company’s European headquarters are in Herstal, Belgium, with laboratory operations in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, and US headquarters and laboratory operations based in Irvine, California. For more information, visit mdxhealth.com and follow us on social media at: twitter.com/mdxhealth, facebook.com/mdxhealth and linkedin.com/company/mdxhealth. Financial statements and auditor review The Company’s statutory auditor, BDO Bedrijfsrevisoren CVBA, has confirmed that its audit procedures with respect to the Company’s consolidated financial statements, prepared in accordance with the International Financial Reporting Standards as adopted in the European Union, have been substantially completed, that the procedures completed to date have not revealed any material adjustments that would have to be made to the accounting information derived from the Company’s consolidated financial information that is included in this press release. The condensed Consolidated Statement of Comprehensive Income may be found on the Company’s website at www.mdxhealth.com. The full Annual Report is expected to be made available to the public via the Company’s website in April 2021. For more information: MDxHealth info@mdxhealth.com LifeSci Advisors (IR & PR)US: +1 949 271 9223 ir@mdxhealth.com This press release contains forward-looking statements and estimates with respect to the anticipated future performance of MDxHealth and the market in which it operates. Such statements and estimates are based on assumptions and assessments of known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, which were deemed reasonable but may not prove to be correct. Actual events are difficult to predict, may depend upon factors that are beyond the company’s control, and may turn out to be materially different. MDxHealth expressly disclaims any obligation to update any such forward-looking statements in this release to reflect any change in its expectations with regard thereto or any change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any such statement is based unless required by law or regulation. This press release does not constitute an offer or invitation for the sale or purchase of securities or assets of MDxHealth in any jurisdiction. No securities of MDxHealth may be offered or sold within the United States without registration under the U.S. Securities Act of 1933, as amended, or in compliance with an exemption therefrom, and in accordance with any applicable U.S. securities laws. NOTE: The MDxHealth logo, MDxHealth, ConfirmMDx, SelectMDx, AS-MDx and MonitorMDx are trademarks or registered trademarks of MDxHealth SA. All other trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners. Attachment English

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Humans actually hunted large animals and ate mostly meat for 2 millions years: study – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Despite a widespread belief that humans owe their evolution to the dietary flexibility in eating both meat and vegetables, researchers in Israel suggest that early humans were actually apex predators who hunted large animals for two million years before they sought vegetables to supplement their diet.

In a study recently published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, academics from Tel Aviv University in Israel and the University of Minho in Portugal examined modern biology to determine if stone-age humans were specialized carnivores or generalist omnivores.

“So far, attempts to reconstruct the diet of Stone-Age humans were mostly based on comparisons to 20th century hunter-gatherer societies,” one of the study’s authors, Miki Ben-Dor, a researcher at Tel Aviv University, said in a press release.

“This comparison is futile, however, because two million years ago hunter-gatherer societies could hunt and consume elephants and other large animals – while today’s hunter gatherers do not have access to such bounty.”

Instead, the researchers looked at approximately 400 previous scientific studies on human anatomy and physiology as well as archeological evidence from the Pleistocene period, or “Ice Age” period, which began about 2.6 million years ago, and lasted until 11,700 years ago.

“We decided to use other methods to reconstruct the diet of Stone-Age humans: to examine the memory preserved in our own bodies, our metabolism, genetics and physical build,” Ben-Dor said.

“Human behaviour changes rapidly, but evolution is slow. The body remembers.”

They discovered 25 lines of evidence from the studied papers on human biology that seem to show that earlier Homo sapiens were apex predators at the top of the food chain.

For example, the academics explained that humans have a high acidity in their stomachs when compared to omnivores or even other predators, which is important for consuming animal products.

“Strong acidity provides protection from harmful bacteria found in meat, and prehistoric humans, hunting large animals whose meat sufficed for days or even weeks, often consumed old meat containing large quantities of bacteria, and thus needed to maintain a high level of acidity,” Ben-Dor said.

Another piece of evidence, according to the study, is the structure of human fat cells.

“In the bodies of omnivores, fat is stored in a relatively small number of large fat cells, while in predators, including humans, it’s the other way around: we have a much larger number of smaller fat cells,” Ben-Dor said.

HUNTING EXPERTS

In addition to the evidence they collected by studying human biology, the researchers said archeological evidence from the Pleistocene period supports their theory.

In one example, the study’s authors examined stable isotopes in the bones of prehistoric humans as well as their hunting practices and concluded these early humans specialized in hunting large and medium-sized animals with high fat content.

“Comparing humans to large social predators of today, all of whom hunt large animals and obtain more than 70% of their energy from animal sources, reinforced the conclusion that humans specialized in hunting large animals and were in fact hypercarnivores,” the academics noted.

Ben-Dor said Stone-Age humans’ expertise in hunting large animals played a major role in the extinction of certain large animals, such as mammoths, mastodons, and giant sloths.

“Most probably, like in current-day predators, hunting itself was a focal human activity throughout most of human evolution. Other archeological evidence – like the fact that specialized tools for obtaining and processing vegetable foods only appeared in the later stages of human evolution – also supports the centrality of large animals in the human diet, throughout most of human history,” he said.

This is not to say, however, that humans during this period didn’t eat any plants. Ben-Dor said they also consumed plants, but they weren’t a major component of their diet until the end of the era when the decline of animal food sources led humans to increase their vegetable intake.

Eventually, the researchers said humans had no choice but to domesticate both plants and animals and become farmers.

Ran Barkai, one of the study’s authors and a professor at Tel Aviv University, said their findings have modern-day implications.

“For many people today, the Paleolithic diet is a critical issue, not only with regard to the past, but also concerning the present and future. It is hard to convince a devout vegetarian that his/her ancestors were not vegetarians, and people tend to confuse personal beliefs with scientific reality,” he said. 

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Marimaca Copper: First Drill Hole Intersects Broad Zone of Sulphide Copper Mineralization at Marimaca – Junior Mining Network

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia, April 07, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Marimaca Copper Corp. (“Marimaca Copper” or the “Company”) (TSX: MARI) is pleased to announce the assay results of the first drill hole of a five-hole program targeting extensions of sulphide mineralization below the Company’s flagship Marimaca Oxide Deposit (“MOD”). Drilling encountered a broad zone of chalcopyrite and minor chalcocite, indicating potential for economic sulphide mineralization.

Highlights

  • Drill hole MAR-125 intersected 116m (expected approximate true width) at an average grade of 0.51% CuT from 162m, including two higher grade zones of:
    • 20m with an average grade of 0.77% CuT from 162m; and
    • 42m with an average grade of 0.92% CuT from 236m.
  • Intersection represents a significantly broader zone of mineralization than anticipated from earlier, nearby, sulphide drilling intersections
  • First drill hole of an initial five-hole campaign to test for extensions of mineralization at depth
    • First hole designed to extend mineralization closer to sulphide zones identified in historical drilling
    • Remaining four holes designed to test the limits of mineralization with step outs of approximately 300m at depth and between 400m and 700m along strike to the north and south of the first hole
  • Sulphide drilling to be completed shortly, with assay results on remaining holes expected by the end of April 2021
  • In response to escalating COVID situation in Chile, the Company has initiated a break in drilling which is not expected to impact the original target of testing all identified targets by the end of 1H 2021.

Sergio Rivera, VP Exploration of Marimaca Copper, commented:

“The results of the first hole of this initial campaign are extremely pleasing, exceeding both the widths and grades we had projected for this zone based on earlier drilling completed nearby. The broad intercept of chalcopyrite mineralization shows good continuity downhole, with potentially economic grades, especially at the bottom of the intercept.

“The drilling has also provided additional geological information, which we are using to refine our understanding of the controls of mineralization and to inform future drillhole locations, targeting mineralized extensions at depth and along strike.

“The next four holes are significant step outs from the known mineralized zones outside of the Mineral Resource Estimate area and are designed to test the limits of the mineralized body, both at depth and along strike. The second hole will be collared approximately 350m to the east of MAR-125, targeting mineralization up to 300m below the current deepest mineralization. The third, fourth and fifth holes will be located between 400m and 700m to the north and south of MAR-125, aiming to test for extensions along strike.

“This first hole has provided encouragement that there is potential for economically interesting sulphide mineralization at Marimaca, while the next four drill holes are designed to better delineate the tonnage potential of this.”

Discussion of Campaign Objectives and Results

The current five-hole drilling campaign at the Marimaca Copper Project is designed to test for extensions to mineralization below the MOD. Based on the structural controls of the mineralization, the results of previous geophysical campaigns and earlier drilling, which extended beyond the current Mineral Resource Estimate (“MRE”) area, the Company believes there is the potential for extensions of the mineralized body at depth across the full strike length of the MOD. All drill holes will be drilled at an azimuth of 270o and at -60o, roughly perpendicular to the north-south striking, easterly dipping mineralizing structures. Intercepts should, therefore, be relatively close to the true width of the mineralization.

The first drill hole (MAR-125) encountered a broad zone of dominantly chalcopyrite mineralization with some pyrite and minor chalcocite over a down hole width (expected to be equivalent to approximate true width) of 116m with an average grade of 0.51% CuT. This includes two zones of higher-grade mineralization including 20m with an average grade of 0.77% CuT and 42m with an average grade of 0.92% CuT at the end of the mineralized intercept. The hole was collared to test mineralization approximately 100m to the east of the earlier hole ATR-82, which intersected 44m of sulphide copper mineralization with an average grade of 1.05% CuT, and 200m and 300m east of holes ATR-93 and ATR-94 respectively, which both intersected mineralization with true widths of around 40m with average grades above 1.0% CuT. MAR-125 has demonstrated an extension to this higher-grade mineralization and provides further areas to target for follow up drilling.

MAR-125 is located in the center of the current MRE area, proximal to a zone of relatively high-grade sulphide mineralization intercepted in several drill holes over widths of between 30m and 50m. The remaining four drill holes have been located to test the limits of the mineralization by stepping out significantly at depth and along strike beyond the current MRE area. The collar of the second hole, MAS-03, is located approximately 100m to the south and 350m to the east of MAR-125 and is aimed to intersect mineralization approximately 300m below MAR-125. MAS-02 and MAS-04, located approximately 400m and 700m, respectively, south of MAR-125, and are planned as significant step outs along strike, targeting the conductivity high noted in the IP survey completed across the MOD

Figure 2

Sampling and Assay Protocol

True widths cannot be determined with the information available at this time. Marimaca Copper RC holes were sampled on a 2-metre continuous basis, with dry samples riffle split on site and one quarter sent to the Andes Analytical Assay preparation laboratory in Calama and the pulps then sent to the same company laboratory in Santiago for assaying. A second quarter was stored on site for reference. Samples were prepared using the following standard protocol: drying; crushing to better than 85% passing -10#; homogenizing; splitting; pulverizing a 500-700g subsample to 95% passing -150#; and a 125g split of this sent for assaying. All samples were assayed for CuT (total copper), CuS (acid soluble copper) by AAS. A full QA/QC program, involving insertion of appropriate blanks, standards and duplicates was employed with acceptable results. Pulps and sample rejects are stored by Marimaca Copper for future reference.

Qualified Person

The technical information in this news release, including the information that relates to geology, drilling and mineralization was prepared under the supervision of, or has been reviewed by Sergio Rivera, Vice President of Exploration, Marimaca Copper Corp, a geologist with more than 36 years of experience and a member of the Colegio de Geólogos de Chile and of the Institute of Mining Engineers of Chile, and who is the Qualified Person for the purposes of NI 43-101 responsible for the design and execution of the drilling program.

Mr. Rivera confirms that he has visited the Marimaca Project on numerous occasions, is responsible for the information contained in this news release and consents to its publication.

Contact Information
For further information please visit www.marimaca.com or contact:

Tavistock
+44 (0) 207 920 3150
Jos Simson/Emily Moss 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Forward Looking Statements

This news release includes certain “forward-looking statements” under applicable Canadian securities legislation. These statements relate to future events or the Company’s future performance, business prospects or opportunities. Forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, the impact of a rebranding of the Company, the future development and exploration potential of the Marimaca Project. Actual future results may differ materially. There can be no assurance that such statements will prove to be accurate, and actual results and future events could differ materially from those anticipated in such statements. Forward-looking statements reflect the beliefs, opinions and projections on the date the statements are made and are based upon a number of assumptions and estimates that, while considered reasonable by Marimaca Copper, are inherently subject to significant business, economic, competitive, political and social uncertainties and contingencies. Many factors, both known and unknown, could cause actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from the results, performance or achievements that are or may be expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements and the parties have made assumptions and estimates based on or related to many of these factors. Such factors include, without limitation: risks related to share price and market conditions, the inherent risks involved in the mining, exploration and development of mineral properties, the uncertainties involved in interpreting drilling results and other geological data, fluctuating metal prices, the possibility of project delays or cost overruns or unanticipated excessive operating costs and expenses, uncertainties related to the necessity of financing, the availability of and costs of financing needed in the future as well as those factors disclosed in the Company’s documents filed from time to time with the securities regulators in the Provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. Accordingly, readers should not place undue reliance on forward-looking statements. Marimaca Copper undertakes no obligation to update publicly or otherwise revise any forward-looking statements contained herein whether as a result of new information or future events or otherwise, except as may be required by law.


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Hubble Spots Double Quasars in Merging Galaxies – HubbleSite

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Research Box Title

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is “seeing double.” Peering back 10 billion years into the universe’s past, Hubble astronomers found a pair of quasars that are so close to each other they look like a single object in ground-based telescopic photos, but not in Hubble’s crisp view.

The researchers believe the quasars are very close to each other because they reside in the cores of two merging galaxies. The team went on to win the “daily double” by finding yet another quasar pair in another colliding galaxy duo.

A quasar is a brilliant beacon of intense light from the center of a distant galaxy that can outshine the entire galaxy. It is powered by a supermassive black hole voraciously feeding on inflating matter, unleashing a torrent of radiation.

“We estimate that in the distant universe, for every 1,000 quasars, there is one double quasar. So finding these double quasars is like finding a needle in a haystack,” said lead researcher Yue Shen of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The discovery of these four quasars offers a new way to probe collisions among galaxies and the merging of supermassive black holes in the early universe, researchers say.

Quasars are scattered all across the sky and were most abundant 10 billion years ago. There were a lot of galaxy mergers back then feeding the black holes. Therefore, astronomers theorize there should have been many dual quasars during that time.

“This truly is the first sample of dual quasars at the peak epoch of galaxy formation with which we can use to probe ideas about how supermassive black holes come together to eventually form a binary,” said research team member Nadia Zakamska of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

The team’s results appeared in the April 1 online issue of the journal Nature Astronomy.

Shen and Zakamska are members of a team that is using Hubble, the European Space Agency’s Gaia space observatory, and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, as well as several ground-based telescopes, to compile a robust census of quasar pairs in the early universe.

The observations are important because a quasar’s role in galactic encounters plays a critical part in galaxy formation, the researchers say. As two close galaxies begin to distort each other gravitationally, their interaction funnels material into their respective black holes, igniting their quasars.

Over time, radiation from these high-intensity “light bulbs” launch powerful galactic winds, which sweep out most of the gas from the merging galaxies. Deprived of gas, star formation ceases, and the galaxies evolve into elliptical galaxies.

“Quasars make a profound impact on galaxy formation in the universe,” Zakamska said. “Finding dual quasars at this early epoch is important because we can now test our long-standing ideas of how black holes and their host galaxies evolve together.”

Astronomers have discovered more than 100 double quasars in merging galaxies so far. However, none of them is as old as the two double quasars in this study.

The Hubble images show that quasars within each pair are only about 10,000 light-years apart. By comparison, our Sun is 26,000 light-years from the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy.

The pairs of host galaxies will eventually merge, and then the quasars also will coalesce, resulting in an even more massive, single solitary black hole.

Finding them wasn’t easy. Hubble is the only telescope with vision sharp enough to peer back to the early universe and distinguish two close quasars that are so far away from Earth. However, Hubble’s sharp resolution alone isn’t good enough to find these dual light beacons.

Astronomers first needed to figure out where to point Hubble to study them. The challenge is that the sky is blanketed with a tapestry of ancient quasars that flared to life 10 billion years ago, only a tiny fraction of which are dual. It took an imaginative and innovative technique that required the help of the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite and the ground-based Sloan Digital Sky Survey to compile a group of potential candidates for Hubble to observe.

Located at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, the Sloan telescope produces three-dimensional maps of objects throughout the sky. The team poured through the Sloan survey to identify the quasars to study more closely.

The researchers then enlisted the Gaia observatory to help pinpoint potential double-quasar candidates. Gaia measures the positions, distances, and motions of nearby celestial objects very precisely. But the team devised a new, innovative application for Gaia that could be used for exploring the distant universe. They used the observatory’s database to search for quasars that mimic the apparent motion of nearby stars. The quasars appear as single objects in the Gaia data. However, Gaia can pick up a subtle, unexpected “jiggle” in the apparent position of some of the quasars it observes.

The quasars aren’t moving through space in any measurable way, but instead their jiggle could be evidence of random fluctuations of light as each member of the quasar pair varies in brightness. Quasars flicker in brightness on timescales of days to months, depending on their black hole’s feeding schedule.

This alternating brightness between the quasar pair is similar to seeing a railroad crossing signal from a distance. As the lights on both sides of the stationary signal alternately flash, the sign gives the illusion of “jiggling.”

When the first four targets were observed with Hubble, its crisp vision revealed that two of the targets are two close pairs of quasars. The researchers said it was a “light bulb moment” that verified their plan of using Sloan, Gaia, and Hubble to hunt for the ancient, elusive double powerhouses.

Team member Xin Liu of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign called the Hubble confirmation a “happy surprise.” She has long hunted for double quasars closer to Earth using different techniques with ground-based telescopes. “The new technique can not only discover dual quasars much further away, but it is much more efficient than the methods we’ve used before,” she said.

Their Nature Astronomy article is a “proof of concept that really demonstrates that our targeted search for dual quasars is very efficient,” said team member Hsiang-Chih Hwang, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University and the principal investigator of the Hubble program. “It opens a new direction where we can accumulate a lot more interesting systems to follow up, which astronomers weren’t able to do with previous techniques or datasets.”

The team also obtained follow-up observations with the National Science Foundation NOIRLab’s Gemini telescopes. “Gemini’s spatially-resolved spectroscopy can unambiguously reject interlopers due to chance superpositions from unassociated star-quasar systems, where the foreground star is coincidentally aligned with the background quasar,” said team member Yu-Ching Chen, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Although the team is convinced of their result, they say there is a slight chance that the Hubble snapshots captured double images of the same quasar, an illusion caused by gravitational lensing. This phenomenon occurs when the gravity of a massive foreground galaxy splits and amplifies the light from the background quasar into two mirror images. However, the researchers think this scenario is highly unlikely because Hubble did not detect any foreground galaxies near the two quasar pairs.

Galactic mergers were more plentiful billions of years ago, but a few are still happening today. One example is NGC 6240, a nearby system of merging galaxies that has two and possibly even three supermassive black holes. An even closer galactic merger will occur in a few billion years when our Milky Way galaxy collides with neighboring Andromeda galaxy. The galactic tussle would likely feed the supermassive black holes in the core of each galaxy, igniting them as quasars.

Future telescopes may offer more insight into these merging systems. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, an infrared observatory scheduled to launch later this year, will probe the quasars’ host galaxies. Webb will show the signatures of galactic mergers, such as the distribution of starlight and the long streamers of gas pulled from the interacting galaxies.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

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