For the first time, astronomers have observed the interior of quasars

For the first time, astronomers have observed the interior of quasars, the brightest objects in the Universe, detecting the presence of black holes. The study confirms what scientists thought, namely that quasars are made up of super massive black holes that formed billions of years ago and superheated discs of matter spiraling down into them.


The quasar Q2237 0305


On this false color image, obtained in visible light but amplified by a gravitational lens, we see four red dots corresponding to the Quasar RXJ1131-1231. In the center, it is the galaxy responsible for the gravitational lensing effect. Credit: Ohio State University


Xinyu Dai and Christopher Kochanek, professors of astronomy and their colleagues at Ohio State University (USA), studied the light emanating from quasars . The black holes can not be directly observed because they are so massive that even light can escape their gravity.


The material that falls into the black hole, however, radiates intensely. In the case of quasars, the material glows through a wide variety of electromagnetic waves , including visible light, radio waves, and x-rays.


On this second image, but this time in X-rays, we still see four images of the Quasar. Note the variation in intensity of the radiation over time that the mosaic of images represents. Credit: Ohio State University


Quasars, or quasi-stellar objects, are so distant that the most advanced telescopes perceive them only as tiny points of light. The internal structures of the two quasars object of the study, RXJ1131-1231 and Q2237 + 0305, only became visible when a galaxy was in a position of alignment between them and the Earth , amplifying their light. This phenomenon of magnification is known as the gravitational lens.


Scientists were then able to observe the size of the accretion disk around the black hole, inside each quasar. In each, the disc surrounded a smaller area emitting x-ray radiation, as if the disc of matter was being heated as it fell into the black hole in the center.


The astronomers studied the variability of both the X-radiation than visible light from quasar and comparing these measurements to calculate the size of the accretion disk in each case.


The research was presented on Tuesday October 3 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in San Francisco.

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