Researchers at the University of Bath have developed a new technology that will expand the detection possibilities of quasars, one of the greatest mysteries that the universe still holds. Capable of creating huge energy emissions, quasars are considered the most intense persistent light source in the universe. However, by abruptly changing their range of luminosity, they are difficult to detect and have become a challenge for scientists.
In addition, as they are huge bursts of light that take shape in the center of galaxies and are driven by supermassive black holes, they can provide crucial information about how these abysmal cosmic objects are formed and, consequently, shed light on it. galaxy formation process.
According to a Press release, the new technique of British astrophysicists makes it possible to detect quasars despite their changing appearance.
The formation and life of quasars
Quasars are born when supermassive black holes reach an extreme rate of consumption of matter, at such an incredible speed that they do not even “devour” everything around them.
That matter that escapes the voracity of the black hole begins to rotate around it and forms the so-called accretion disk, which when heated releases intense bright light and emissions that can only be seen at gamma, radio and X-ray wavelengths.
The material that makes up the accretion discs rotates at a speed slightly lower than that of light, in the context of a phenomenon that can even outshine the galaxies in which it is found.
When quasars have consumed all the available matter, they begin to dim and ultimately turn into a supermassive black hole. Being among the oldest and most distant objects in space, they have much to teach us about the conformation of galaxies.
A technological change
So far, its detection has been very complex for multiple reasons. On the one hand, its location and fluctuations in brightness make identification difficult. Extremely precise measurements with multiple tools and observations with specialized telescopes are required to analyze visible light and energy emissions.
At the same time, experts need to compare the data obtained with previous results, considering the variations in light intensity recorded by quasars.
While classical quasar detection techniques rely on variations within a wide range of wavelengths, the new approach makes use of spectroscopic data: With this new technology, astronomers can capture the most subtle changes in luminosity fluctuations, thus expanding the possibilities of detection.
By testing the new technique, they were able to detect four quasars millions of light years from our planet. With conventional techniques, also called photometric, these quasars had not been discovered when studying the same sector of the universe.
Is the mystery over?
Now, the scientists in charge of the new study, which was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, have set themselves a new challenge: discovering the causes of the intense variations in luminosity that quasars experience.
Advancing in this regard is likely to improve understanding around the formation of supermassive black holes, as well as the processes that make possible the growth and development of galaxies. Has the end of the mystery about quasars come?
A systematic search for changing-look quasars in SDSS-II using difference spectra. B. Potts, C. Villforth. Astronomy & Astrophysics (2021).
Artistic representation of the quasar GB1508. Credit: NASA.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.