Astrophysics Students Made First Ever Observations Of A Quasar
In Six Separate Light Reflections

12 August, 2013 - Using Nordic Optical Telescope, NOT, on La Palma, Spain, a group of 3rd year astrophysics students at the Niels Bohr Institute, Denmark have observed a quasar whose light has been deflected and reflected in six separate images.

This is the first time a quasar has been observed with so many light reflections.

"Just like 'ordinary' researchers, they then had to make an application for observation time at the Nordic Optical Telescope," explains Professor Johan Fynbo, who was their supervisor for the summer course.

Click on image to enlarge

An Artist's interpretation of a Quasar

"We had three hours to observe and already after one hour we had the first spectrum," said Thejs Brinckmann, one of the astrophysics students working on the project.

"It was a new experience for us, but we could see immediately that it was a quasar. A typical characteristic of a quasar is that the light has broad emission lines from gas close to the black hole."

"We were very excited and moved on to the other 'candidates' from observation and later that night we found yet another light reflection of the quasar," Brinckmann explains.

"We analysed the spectra and we could see that three of the spectra stemmed from the quasar," explains Thejs Brinckmann, one of four students who conducted observations and took spectra of four different images that could stem from the same quasar.

The other students in the group were Mikkel Kristensen, Mikkel Lindholmer and Anders Nielsen. They worked over three nights and took spectra of four different images that could stem from the same quasar.

Quasars are active black holes - primarily from the early universe. They are extremely luminous and can be observed across the entire universe. But light does not always move in a straight line. Light is affected by the gravity of objects it encounters in its path.

Due to the special gravitational lens effect where light is bent as it passes heavy objects, such as galaxy clusters, a group of physics students at the Niels Bohr Institute observed a quasar whose light was reproduced six times. This has never been seen before. Håkon Dahle, Nordiske Optiske Teleskop

The four physics students Anders Nielsen, Mikkel Kristensen, Mikkel Lindholmer and Thejs Brinckmann worked together on a project at the Nordic Telescope on La Palma in Spain and they observed a quasar that was imaged six times. This has never been seen before.

"The light from this quasar has been travelling for more than 11 billion years en route to Earth. Between the quasar and Earth is a collection of hundreds of galaxies - a galaxy cluster," Johan Fynbo says.

This galaxy cluster has so much gravity that it pulls the light from the quasar. So instead of radiating in straight lines from the quasar, the light is deflected in an arc around the galaxy cluster. In this way, one can observe not just one, but several images of the same quasar. This is called the gravitational lens effect."

"This is the first time that a quasar has observed whose light has been reflected or 'lensed' in six separate image," explains Johan Fynbo.

'Lensed' quasars are rare and you typically see two or three light-reflections. Six images of the same quasar have never been observed before.

The results are published in the scientific journal, Astrophysical Journal.

See also:
Hunt For Distant Planets Continues

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