Astronomers solve mysteries surrounding quasars – and the likely future of the Milky Way | Science and technology news
Astronomers have solved the mystery of how quasars – the brightest and most powerful objects in the universe – are ignited.
Located at the centers of some galaxies, these very bright celestial objects can be a trillion times brighter than the Sun NASA.
Although quasars were first discovered 60 years ago, they have remained a mystery because it was unclear how such intense activity could be generated.
Now, research suggests this is a result of galaxy mergers.
Scientists led by the Universities of Sheffield and Hertfordshire found what they describe as “the presence of distorted structures” in the galaxies containing quasars.
The researchers analyzed data from the Isaac Newton telescope on La Palma, one of the Canary Islands.
The team compared observations of 48 quasars and their host galaxies with images of more than 100 non-quasar galaxies.
At the center of most galaxies are believed to be supermassive black holes – many millions of times denser than the Sun.
These galaxies also contain significant amounts of gas that are beyond the reach of the black holes.
When galaxies collide, the gases are propelled toward the black hole, where they are then consumed, releasing, according to researchers, “extraordinary amounts of energy in the form of radiation, resulting in the quasar’s characteristic brilliance.”
They concluded that galaxies hosting quasars are about three times more likely to interact or collide with other galaxies.
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Professor Clive Tadhunter from the University of Sheffield said: “Quasars are one of the most extreme phenomena in the Universe and what we are seeing likely represents the future of our own Milky Way when it collides with the Andromeda Galaxy in around five billion years.
“It’s exciting to watch these events and finally understand why they’re occurring — but thankfully, Earth won’t be anywhere near any of these apocalyptic episodes for quite a while.”
dr Jonny Pierce, from the University of Hertfordshire, said: “It’s an area that scientists around the world are dying to learn more about.
“One of the main scientific motivations for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was to study the earliest galaxies in the universe, and Webb is able to detect light from even the most distant quasars, emitted almost 13 billion years ago.
“Quasars play a key role in our understanding of the history of the Universe and possibly the future of the Milky Way.”
The results were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.