Which came first: A galaxy or the supermassive black hole at its center? Thanks to a misfit quasar, astronomers have some new clues.
Quasars are particular kinds of black holes that release incredibly intense jets of energy, and scientists spied this one five billion light-years away. To their surprise, the astronomers found that unlike most quasars, this one was ”naked” and not situated at the centre of a galaxy. However, there was a companion galaxy close to it creating new stars at a frantic rate equivalent to about 350 suns per year [The Telegraph].
The naked quasar, then, could be the spark that’s setting off a blaze of activity in that galaxy. The astronomers think the black hole is powering star formation in the nearby galaxy by spraying its jets of high-energy particles toward it. In fact, the quasar could have triggered the galaxy’s formation in the first place when its energetic jets hit nearby clouds of gas [MSNBC].
Prior to their findings, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the scientists had thought the quasar in question wasn’t naked at all, but rather that its galaxy was hidden from us by a layer of dust. However, infrared observations showed no such dust; instead, it identified the nearby companion galaxy. Only 22,000 light-years separate the quasar and galaxy. Eventually they will merge and the quasar will be naked no longer.
David Elbaz of the French Atomic Energy Commission says stars probably don’t form this way in our region of the the universe, home to old galaxies and hardly any quasars. But “it might have had a substantial impact on galaxy formation in early times,” about 10 billion to 12 billion years ago, when most galaxies were born and quasars were much more common [ScienceNOW Daily News].
80beats: Researchers Spot an Ancient Starburst from the Universe’s Dark Ages
80beats: How to Create a Black Hole on a Lab Bench
80beats: We Knew That Black Holes Were Massive. Now Double That.
DISCOVER: Quasars Say Earth is 1/2 a Pinkie Smaller
Image: ESO / L. Calcada