Quasar in biggest cosmic blast ever seen

Nov. 28, 2012 at 6:37 PM
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GARCHING, Germany, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- Astronomers say a powerful quasar outflow seen by an observatory in Chile is the largest such cosmic blast of energy ever witnessed.

Astronomers using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Paranal said the energetic outflow is at least five times more powerful than any that have been observed to date.

Quasars are the intensely luminous centers of distant galaxies powered by huge black holes.

While black holes are noted for pulling material in, most quasars also accelerate some of the material around them and eject it at high speed.

"The rate that energy is carried away by this huge mass of material ejected at high speed from [quasar] SDSS J1106+1939 is at least equivalent to 2 million million times the power output of the sun," team leader Nahum Arav of Virginia Tech said in a release from ESO headquarters in Garching, Germany.

Astronomers have theorized the impact of these outflows could explain several questions in modern cosmology, including how the mass of a galaxy is linked to its central black hole mass and why there are so few large galaxies in the universe.

Whether quasars were capable of producing outflows powerful enough to produce these phenomena has remained unclear until now.

"This is the first time that a quasar outflow has been measured to have the sort of very high energies that are predicted by theory," Arav said.

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