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11

That Thing Called Quasar

Space is just as mysterious as the ocean's depths. We know very little of the vast expanse of either and as we go farther and deeper, we discover more amazing things than what our imaginations can fathom.

What is a quasar? To put it simply, it is a massive object of hot gas and dust being sucked in by a black hole that emits powerful amounts of energy.

A quasar can produce more energy than the entire galaxy in which it resides. Although the basic mechanism that powers a quasar is known, the anatomy of the supermassive black hole and its surroundings is not well understood. Where does the gas that feeds the black hole come from? And what effect does the resulting intense radiation have on the environment around the black hole? The findings of the GRAVITY Collaboration provide a way to answer these fundamental questions.

Learn more about it with Erin Kara's article on Nature.

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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There are now a variety of kinds of Active Galactic Nucleus (AGN) in galaxies and quasars are thought to be just one kind. Figuring out the differences between them and what causes the differences is a big area of ongoing work. Seyfert galaxies may be closely related to quasars, but less bright due to less material near the central black hole or simply quasars being very directional and often missing us. There are Seyfert galaxies as close as 40 Mly away, much better than the closest quasar of about 500 Mly away. If material is part of the difference, there would be the possibility of a quasar flaring up, although probably not on human timescales.
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The other thing that makes it so mysterious is how far away it is — a quasar is something from the distant past. We have little hope of ever discovering what it looks like now, let alone approach one. We are looking at something that existed billions of years ago!
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