A team of astronomers have discovered “the most energetic outflows ever witnessed in the universe”, using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
These energetic outflows originate from quasars as they rampage through space like tsunamis causing destruction and disruption in the galaxies where they reside.Quasars are the extremely bright cores of far away galaxies. They are some of the most distant and luminous bodies, and they release a tremendously large amount of energy. These objects contain supermassive black holes.
NASA explained the creation of the quasars and the energetic outflows that were viewed using the Hubble Space Telescope.
“As the black hole devours matter, hot gas encircles it and emits intense radiation, creating the quasar. Winds, driven by blistering radiation pressure from the vicinity of the black hole, push material away from the galaxy’s center. These outflows accelerate to breathtaking velocities that are a few percent of the speed of light.”
According to principal investigator Nahum Arav of Virginia Tech, “The amount of mechanical energy that these outflows carry is up to several hundreds of times higher than the luminosity of the entire Milky Way galaxy.”
As the winds move through the galaxy, they destroy matter that would have resulted in the formation of new stars. Similarly, the radiation propels gas and dust much farther than scientists were aware of. These instances together cause what NASA is referring to as a “cosmic tsunami”. The cosmic tsumani, when viewed, is reported to be ” a huge light show – like Christmas trees all over the galaxy”.
Astronomers studied the outflow of thirteen quasars, by observing spectral “fingerprints” of light from the glowing gas. Through this process, they were able to measure the rate at which quasars were accelerated by the wind.
“The Hubble ultraviolet data show that these light absorption features created from material along the path of the light were shifted in the spectrum because of the fast motion of the gas across space,” said NASA. The Hubble telescope is the only device that has the required range of ultraviolet sensitivity that could allow for this discovery.
During the course of this investigation, the astronomers also uncovered an additional outflow which is increasing in speed at a rate higher than any other. “It increased from nearly 43 million miles per hour to roughly 46 million miles per hour in a three-year period,” said NASA.
“Hubble’s ultraviolet observations allow us to follow the whole range of energy output from quasars, from cooler gas to the extremely hot, highly ionized gas in the more massive winds,” said team member Gerard Kriss of the Space Telescope Science Institute. “These were previously only visible with much more difficult X-ray observations. Such powerful outflows may yield new insights into the link between the growth of a central supermassive black hole and the development of its entire host galaxy.”
Image: Instagram / Nasagoddard (NASA, ESA and J. Olmsted [STScl])