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Quasar sends energy blast 2 trillion times more powerful than sun

November 28, 2012|By Jon Bardin
  • An artist's rendering depicts the quasar's powerful emission.
An artist's rendering depicts the quasar's powerful emission. (L. Calcada )

Scientists have reported the largest blast of energy ever recorded from a far-off quasar, some two trillion times more energetic than the sun. The discovery may explain confusing discrepancies between the observed and predicted masses of black holes.

Quasars are extremely bright galaxy cores, at the center of which sits a black hole. Their light is generated when material is sucked into that black hole, creating large amounts of energy.

But quasars are also capable of emitting that energy back out, away from the black hole, and one of those emissions is what the researchers, led by Nahum Arav of Virginia Tech, observed.

The team used the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, located in Paranal, Chile.

Energy outflows from quasars on the scale of what Arav's team observed have been predicted for some time by theorists, but have never been recorded by researchers.

The existence of such emissions may answer a question that has intrigued astrophysicists for some time. While theoretical models of the universe tend to approximate what researchers observe, one major difference has persevered: Theoretical models tend to overestimate the mass of black holes relative to the rest of the galaxy. If quasars are ejecting energy at the rate observed by Arav's team, that could explain where that mass goes.

But the theory rests on the notion that such emissions are fairly common, and the team's discovery is the first such emission researchers have observed. As a result, Arav and his team now want to find more powerful quasar emissions to cement the idea.

If they can't, Arav says, the quasar emissions may not tell the whole story.

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