Far-Off Quasar Could Be the Spark That Ignites a Galaxy

By Andrew Moseman | December 2, 2009 10:46 am

Quasar220Which 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].

Related Content:
80beats: Researchers Spot an Ancient Starburst from the Universe’s Dark Ages
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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

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space
  • NewEnglandBob

    But if a quasar is a type of black hole and it is naked then where did the mass come from to make the quasar?

  • http://http//bossy-girls.net Lila Sovietskaya

    Could the black hole be outside of any galaxy because it has absobed the whole galaxy that hosted it?

  • Cory

    @1. The article mentions “nearby clouds of gas”. Within galaxy clusters and particularly in the early universe, “empty” space is rarely an actual vacuum. Sometimes, it’s much more. The quasar could be feeding off of a particularly scrumptious morsel of gas.

    @2. This is highly unlikely, given our understanding of supermassive black holes’ feeding patterns. It certainly shouldn’t be possible in the younger sections of the universe.

    In general, I think this is just a really grand hypothesis to meet the observation of the nearby galaxy. It seems more likely to me that it is a quasar that somehow became displaced from its nearby host.

  • http://www.planeslost.com/de Clark Quettant

    I like the valuable information you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and check again here regularly. I’m quite certain I will learn plenty of new stuff right here! Good luck for the next!

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