Hubble Telescope discovers ancient quasars with brightness of 600-trillion suns

10 Janvier, 2019, 15:39 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Four lasers beam into the sky to help sharpen images taken using the Very Large Telescope. Credit ESO  F. Kamphues

Light from the quasar serendipitously passed near a galaxy between Earth and the source on its path to us, scientists found.

This is the first time the camera has acted up like this, said Cheryl Gundy, a spokeswoman with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which handles science operations for the telescope.

Calculations found that the light had been significantly "redshifted" - a phenomenon where the wavelength of a beam of light expands over vast amounts of time and distance. If the lensing galaxy in this system were just half a magnitude brighter, researchers may have entirely missed the quasar.

All galaxies have a supermassive black hole at their cores.

They are typically 3,260 light-years across. It's burning brighter than 600 trillion suns.

The rapidly-spinning disk spews jets of particles moving outward at speeds approaching that of light.

The Hubble Space Telescope's premier camera has shut down because of a hardware problem.

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The data shows not only that the supermassive black hole is accreting matter to itself at an extremely high rate, but also that the quasar may be producing up to 10,000 stars per year, scientists said.

Astronomers said the quasar has a brightness equivalent to about 600 trillion suns and the supermassive black hole powering it is several hundred million times as massive as our sun. By comparison, the Milky Way produces about one new star a year.

Lead author Xiaohui Fan, of the University of Arizona, said he did not expect to find many quasars brighter than this in the whole universe.

He added: "Its properties and its distance make it a prime candidate to investigate the evolution of distant quasars and the role supermassive black holes in their centres had on star formation". Luckily, the newly studied quasar and galaxy were just bright enough to be flagged as potential distant-universe objects.

The galaxy bent the light from the quasar making it appear three times as large and 50 times as bright as it would have been without the effect of gravitational lensing, astronomers said.

Named after the American astronomer Edwin Hubble, the veteran telescope has been cranking away for more than quarter of century since it was launched in 1990.

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