This is an image of a quasar. That red dot is Quasar ULAS J1120+0641. ULAS J1120+0641 is 12.9 gigalight-years away from earth. That’s 12.9 billion (12,900,000,000) light years or 760 Septillion (760,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) miles away from earth. Quasars are very cool, not cold, no, they are actually quite the opposite. For instance, the surface of the sun is 5,504 °C, but the centre of a Quasar, well, it is theorised that inside a quasar can be anywhere from 10 to 40 Trillion degrees Celsius. What can possibly occur to generate such immense heat? Friction. Very cool indeed.
More to what I want to talk about. Which is brightness. Quasars are among the brightest things in the galaxy. But why? Well there are several reasons that Quasars are bright. Firstly, we have to understand what a Quasar is. In a somewhat paradoxical move, quasars are actually caused by supermassive black holes (yes that is an actual scientific term) and the black hole at the centre of ULAS J1120+0641 has a mass two billion times that of our sun. The brightness is caused by all the stars, planets, photons, debris and gas that is sucked in by the black hole being spun around the event horizon at an unfathomable speed before plunging into the unknow. This causes a great amount of friction in the ring of clouds spinning around the black hole, otherwise known as the accretion disk. And as stated in the aforementioned paragraph this friction nmakes quasars hot. And in space hot things glow. And really hot things really glow. We cannot appreciate how unbelievably hot Quasars are. However, we can try to understand how bright they are.
This image shows Quasar 3C 273. The left and image is an unadulterated view of Quasar 3C 273 and on the right, is what we see if we block out the light emitted from Quasar 3C 273. We see an entire galaxy. 3C273 is so bright that it eclipses the galaxy of billions of stars that it is within. 3C 273 is around 2.2443 billion (2,443,000,000) lightyears away from us. It is over 4 billion (4,000,000,000) times brighter than our sun. That’s so bright that if 3C 273 were 33 lightyears away from earth it would shine as brightly as our sun which is only 8 light minutes away from us.
These energy powerhouses are known in astronomical terms as active galactic nuclei. They are storms of immense energy that spew out radiation with such ferocity and in such a large magnitude that they make our solar system seem like grains of sand.
The visible ray of particles here emitted by 3C 273 from the centre of Galaxy M87 is so long that it could stretch from the sun to Pluto and back 1.5 million times (1,500,000), but what is the brightest thing in the universe? Well the brightest thing we have observed is Quasar 3C 454.3.
This is the 100,000th image taken by the Hubble telescope. And to put the brightness of 3C 454.3 into perspective. The star in the centre right of the image is a star a few hundred lightyears away, but the bright spot at the very centre of the image that is just brighter than the star to the right is Quasar 3C 454.3. Which is 9 billion (9,000,000,000) light years away from earth. But why are there no Quasars closer to us than many billions of light years? Well that’s because Quasars don’t exist anymore. Quasars are from a time when there were billions of billions more stars in the universe. Quasars are hungry beasts. Black holes need to consume 10 stars a year to be able to maintain a quasar, but the brightest Quasars will have consumed many thousands of stars a year, over 10 earths worth of mass a second. And the black hole does this until it’s event horizon becomes so large that It no longer sucks in photons from stars creating an accretion disk, but instead swallows stars whole. Quasars are the ancient relics of our universe. If we could teleport straight to 3C 454.3 or, indeed, 3C 272 and ULAS J1120+0641. It is highly probable that they will not be burning anymore.
But Quasars can form again, indeed, when Andromeda crashes into the milky way in around 4 billion (4,000,000,000) years the abundance of new stars that will be available for our central black holes to consume will be sufficient to ignite a Quasar. However we won’t be around to see that. And what we see now are merely ghosts of the ancient universe.
© Kipper 2017