What are Quasars ?
A Primordial Quasar
Drawing Credit: Wolfram Freudling et al. (STECF), ESO, ESA, NASA
Explanation: What did the first quasars look like? The nearest quasars are now known to be supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies. Gas and dust that falls toward a quasar glows brightly, sometimes outglowing the entire home galaxy. The quasars that formed in the first billion years of the universe are more mysterious, though, with even the nature of the surrounding gas still unknown. Above, an artist’s impression shows a primordial quasar as it might have been, surrounded by sheets of gas, dust, stars, and early star clusters. Exacting observations of three distant quasars now indicate emission of very specific colors of the element iron. These Hubble Space Telescope observations, which bolster recent results from the WMAP mission, indicate that a whole complete cycle of stars was born, created this iron, and died within the first few hundred million years of the universe.
A quasi-stellar radio source („quasar”) is a very energetic and distant active galactic nucleus. Quasars are the most luminous objects in the universe. Quasars were first identified as being high redshift sources of electromagnetic energy, including radio waves and visible light, that were point-like, similar to stars, rather than extended sources similar to galaxies.
While there was initially some controversy over the nature of these objects—as recently as the early 1980s, there was no clear consensus as to their nature—there is now a scientific consensus that a quasar is a compact region in the center of a massive galaxy surrounding its central supermassive black hole. Its size is 10–10,000 times the Schwarzschild radius of the black hole. The quasar is powered by an accretion disc around the black hole.
Quasars show a very high redshift, which is an effect of the expansion of the universe between the quasar and the Earth. They are the most luminous, powerful, and energetic objects known in the universe. They tend to inhabit the very centers of active young galaxies and can emit up to a thousand times the energy output of the Milky Way. When combined with Hubble’s law, the implication of the redshift is that the quasars are very distant—and thus, it follows, objects from much earlier in the universe’s history. The most luminous quasars radiate at a rate that can exceed the output of average galaxies, equivalent to one trillion (1012) suns. This radiation is emitted across the spectrum, almost equally, from X-rays to the far-infrared with a peak in the ultraviolet-optical bands, with some quasars also being strong sources of radio emission and of gamma-rays. In early optical images, quasars looked like single points of light (i.e. point sources), indistinguishable from stars, except for their peculiar spectra. With infrared telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope, the „host galaxies” surrounding the quasars have been identified in some cases. These galaxies are normally too dim to be seen against the glare of the quasar, except with these special techniques. Most quasars cannot be seen with small telescopes, but 3C 273, with an average apparent magnitude of 12.9, is an exception. At a distance of 2.44 billion light-years, it is one of the most distant objects directly observable with amateur equipment.
More than 200,000 quasars are known, most from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Quasars have all the same properties as active galaxies, but are more powerful. You can read more here and enter the Astronomy portal here.
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