Quasars are the intensely luminous centres of distant galaxies that are powered by huge black holes. This new study has looked at one of these energetic objects – known as SDSS J1106+1939 – in great detail, using the X-shooter instrument on ESO's VLT at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. Although black holes are noted for pulling material in, most quasars also accelerate some of the material around them and eject it at high speed.
"We have discovered the most energetic quasar outflow known to date. The rate that energy is carried away by this huge mass of material ejected at high speed from SDSS J1106+1939 is at least equivalent to two million million times the power output of the Sun. This is about 100 times higher than the total power output of the Milky Way galaxy – it's a real monster of an outflow," says team leader Nahum Arav (Virginia Tech, USA). "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."
Many theoretical simulations suggest that the impact of these outflows on the galaxies around them may resolve several enigmas 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. However, whether or not quasars were capable of producing outflows powerful enough to produce these phenomena has remained unclear until now.
The newly discovered outflow lies about a thousand light-years away from the supermassive black hole at the heart of the quasar SDSS J1106+1939. This outflow is at least five times more powerful than the previous record holder. The team's analysis shows that a mass of approximately 400 times that of the Sun is streaming away from this quasar per year, moving at a speed of 8000 kilometres per second.
"We couldn't have got the high-quality data to make this discovery without the VLT's X-shooter spectrograph," says Benoit Borguet (Virginia Tech, USA), lead author of the new paper. "We were able to explore the region around the quasar in great detail for the first time."
As well as SDSS J1106+1939, the team also observed one other quasar and found that both of these objects have powerful outflows. As these are typical examples of a common, but previously little studied, type of quasars, these results should be widely applicable to luminous quasars across the Universe. Borguet and colleagues are currently exploring a dozen more similar quasars to see if this is the case.
"I've been looking for something like this for a decade," says Nahum Arav, "so it's thrilling to finally find one of the monster outflows that have been predicted!"
This research was presented in a paper, "Major contributor to AGN feedback: VLT X-shooter observations of SIV BAL QSO outflows", to appear in The Astrophysical Journal.
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
NASA's Mars 2020 rover will be bristling with new gadgets, including a camera with zoom, an enhanced laser, and equipment for turning CO2 into oxygen
Astronaut Reid Wiseman may be known for prolifically posting photos of Earth from the International Space Station, but his counterpart Astronaut Alexander Gerst is snap-happy too — and Gerst's photos are much more abstract, beautiful in their own different right
The image above shows a simulation of Jupiter’s magnetic field, whose intricate complexities make it extremely difficult to accurately model. While it may look like the gas giant is vomiting up some enormous space worms, the visualization is actually capturing details of the gas giant’s magnetism with greater precision than ever before.
Two simulated trips to space, on a Hawaiian volcano and underwater off Florida, have just ended. What do these fake expeditions help astronauts learn?
"It's amazing. It truly is. Given all the things that can fail," NASA official says
It turns out that our nearest neighbor in space is sort of a squashed sphere. The lead author in a new paper published in Nature describes it as "a lemon with an equatorial bulge."
These "techno archaeologists" are using DIY engineering to revamp NASA's early moon pics.
Sex experiments involving lizards appear back on track after communications with Photon-M satellite are re-established
Delivering fuel, food and a game of Pong for astronauts on the ISS, the final launch of the ATV prepares the European Space Agency for crewed moon missions
Rocket boosts pair of space surveillance spacecraft toward orbit to monitor space debris and anything else that might threaten U.S. military satellites