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.
Photographer Michael Soluri shares an intimate look at the team that saved the iconic observatory
The Lyrid meteor shower happens every April, and on average 10 to 20 shooting stars can be seen an hour. Clear skies over the UK made this year’s display particularly spectacular
Readers answer other readers’ questions on subjects ranging from trivial flights of fancy to profound scientific conceptsGalaxies rotate. Do all spiral galaxies rotate in the same direction?
Russia is cutting spending on its space program by more than a third over the next 10 years because of the country's economic crisis, forcing it to scrap plans to develop a super-heavy launch rocket.
After a quarter of a century on the job, the Hubble Space telescope has returned some of the most extraordinary cosmic images ever captured
Observation could lead to new way to probe exoplanets
A joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co on Wednesday said uncertainty over its use of Russian rocket engines for Air Force satellite launches could undermine its plans to build a new rocket with a U.S. engine.
On its way to an unprecedented flyby of Pluto, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft snapped a special shot
The rocket tipped over due to excess lateral velocity
Three new studies resolve some of the inconsistencies in our understanding of the Moon's birth, including the violent impact that started the process.