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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Queries About Quasars

Air Date: Week of

Quasars are the brightest objects in the night sky, but they hide a dark secret...they are home to black holes. Ian Gray reports.



GRAY: Her eyes sparkled like diamonds in the night
Like two dancing candle flames on a tabletop
Like two of the brightest stars in the sky… [DJ scribble]


Forget stars…the brightest objects in the night sky are actually quasars. Shorthand for Quasi-Stellar Radio Source, quasars are astronomical engines of electromagnetic activity. They exist in the far reaches of the universe and are capable of releasing energy levels equivalent to the energy of hundreds of galaxies combined. Researchers from Ohio State University recently got a glimpse into the depths of these distant celestial bodies and found a dark secret. Quasars are home to black holes.

Normally, quasars are so far away, and their light is so intense, that astronomers can only see them in telescopes as single points of light. But this summer, a faraway galaxy came between the orbit of the earth and two quasars. The galaxy acted like a magnifying glass, boosting the power of a NASA telescope and giving astronomers the first look at the interior structure of a quasar.

Inside the quasar the scientists measured a sort of giant gravity shadow, caused by the centripetal pull of energy entering a black hole. Scientists believe that at a certain point before the energy disappears into the black hole it gives off a giant sputter that we see as the quasar.

No need to batten down the hatches yet. Luckily for us earthlings, the nearest quasar is at most, 6 billion light years away.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Ian Gray.



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