US astronomers have detected the most powerful blast from a quasar ever recorded, offering the first proof of important theories about why the universe is shaped the way it is.
The beam of energy, detected by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, based in Chile, was at least five times larger than any observed before.
The new analysis identified a huge flow of energy — two trillion times as powerful as the Sun and 400 times more massive — streaming from a quasar known as SDSS J1106+1939.
“I’ve been looking for something like this for a decade,” said lead researcher Nahum Arav, from Virginia Tech University, “so it’s thrilling to finally find one of the monster outflows that have been predicted.”
Quasars are celestial bodies that look like extraordinarily bright stars. But astronomers now believe quasars are not stars at all, and that they draw their power from the enormous black holes at the center of newly forming galaxies.
Because they are so far away — meaning it has taken billions of years for their light to reach even the most powerful telescopes — quasars provide glimpses of the ancient history of the universe.
And while black holes are known for sucking energy in, quasars also take some of the energy around them and shoot it back into the universe at high speed.
Astronomers theorize that these energy flows help explain why there are so few large galaxies and how the mass of a galaxy is linked to its central black hole.
But until now, the powerful beams of energy were merely speculation.
“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.
Quasar SDSS J1106+1939 had already been identified, but this was the first time its outflow had been accurately measured in great detail.