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Astrophysicists Unveil Some Of The Greatest Secrets Of Quasars

25 July 2013

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MessageToEagle.com - Based upon observations of 10 quasars, Dartmouth astrophysicists have documented the immense power of quasar radiation, which reaches out for many thousands of light years to the limits of the quasar's galaxy.

"For the first time, we are able to see the actual extent to which these quasars and their black holes can affect their galaxies, and we see that it is limited only by the amount of gas in the galaxy," says Kevin Hainline, a Dartmouth postdoctoral research associate.

"The radiation excites gas all the way to the margins of the galaxy and stops only when it runs out of gas."


The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere and among the largest in the world. As Dartmouth is a partner in SALT, faculty and students have access to the telescope. Photo by Janus Brink, Southern African Large Telescope


The radiation released by a quasar covers the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves and microwaves at the low-frequency end through infrared, ultraviolet, and X-rays, to high-frequency gamma rays.

A central black hole, also called an active galactic nucleus, may grow by swallowing material from the surrounding interstellar gas, releasing energy in the process.

This leads to the creation of a quasar, emitting radiation that illuminates the gas present throughout the galaxy.

"If you take this powerful, bright radiation source in the center of the galaxy and blast the gas with its radiation, it will get excited in just the same way the neon gets excited in neon lamps, producing light," says Hickox, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth.

"The gas will produce very specific frequencies of light that only a quasar can produce. This light functioned as a tracer that we were able to use to follow the gas excited by the black hole out to large distances."



The illumination of gas can have a profound effect, since gas that is lit up and heated by the quasar is less able to collapse under its own gravity and form new stars.

Thus, the tiny central black hole and its quasar can slow down star formation in the entire galaxy and influence how the galaxy grows and changes over time.

"This is exciting because we know from a number of different independent arguments that these quasars have a profound effect on the galaxies in which they live," Hickox says.

"There is a lot of controversy about how they actually influence the galaxy, but now we have one aspect of the interaction that can extend on the scale of the entire galaxy.

Nobody had seen this before."

The paper is now available to the public through the Cornell University Library.


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See also:
Giant Black Hole Explosion In Space: 100 Times Higher Than The Total Power Output Of The Milky Way Galaxy!

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