Astronomers Spot the Most Massive Quasar Outflow Yet Seen


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Astronomers have discovered a quasar with the most massive outflow ever seen. Quasars are bright galactic centers powered by supermassive black holes, and many of them accelerate the material around them, throwing it out a high speed in a process that plays a key role in the evolution of galaxies. The newly discovered quasar is, according to researchers, five times more powerful than any quasar previously seen.

A new study, to be published in The Astrophysical Journal, details the observations made of the quasar SDSS J1106+1939 using the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. It reports that a mass equal to about 400 suns is streaming away from the quasar every year at a speed of 8000 kilometers per second (about 5000 miles per second).

“We have discovered the most energetic quasar outflow known to date," said Nahum Arav, team leader on the research. "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. 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.”

According to the researchers, theoretical simulations of galaxies suggest quasar outflows could explain 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.

“I’ve been looking for something like this for a decade, so it’s thrilling to finally find one of the monster outflows that have been predicted!” said Arav.

(Image courtesy ESO/L. Calçada)