Astronomers observing distant quasars have discovered something puzzling about a very rare class of these enigmatic objects — some appear to be sucking material inwards at relativistic speeds, whereas the vast majority of quasars do exactly the opposite.
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Quasars dominated the early Cosmos, generating vast quantities of radiation that can be observed today right at the edge of our observable Universe. Consisting of an active supermassive black hole and a searing disk of plasma in the cores of young galaxies, the vast majority of quasars eject material from their energetic environments at high speed.
This may sound counter-intuitive; black holes consume matter after all, they don’t eject it. But in a quasar’s hot accretion disk — composed of a superheated soup of blended stars, gas and dust that strayed too close to the supermassive black hole’s gravitational wrath — the intense radiation blasts the surrounding material away from the black hole. Although some material inevitably gets fed from the accretion disk into the black hole, vast quantities are ejected at up to a significant fraction of the speed of light.
However, by taking a Doppler speed check of the motion of gas around known quasars, a team of researchers analyzing data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-III) have discovered a very rare subset of quasars that don’t fit the norm.
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“The gas in this new type of quasar is moving in two directions: some is moving toward Earth but most of it is moving at high velocities away from us, possibly toward the quasar’s black hole,” said Niel Brandt, study co-author and Distinguished Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University ( via news.discovery.com ).