Astronomers analysed the energy being carried away from a huge quasar – the bright centres of distant galaxies which are powered by supermassive black holes and spew out vast amounts of matter.
Scientists have long claimed that extraordinarily powerful quasars must exist and play a key role in the formation of new galaxies, but until now none had been discovered which came close to their predictions.
Now measurements of a quasar known as SDSS J1106+1939 have established that it releases energy with about two million million times the power output of the Sun – the type of very high energy proposed by theorists. The team of scientists, who made their observations using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT), calculated that a mass equivalent to 400 Suns is given off by the quasar each year, at a speed of 800km per second. Dr. Nahum Arav of Virginia Tech University, who led the study, said: “We have discovered the most energetic quasar outflow known to date ... I’ve been looking for something like this for a decade, so it’s thrilling to finally find one of the monster outflows that have been predicted."
Theorists claim that the existence of quasars with such a powerful outflow of energy could solve a number of unanswered questions in cosmology, such as how the central black hole mass of galaxies helps determine the overall mass of the galaxy, and why the universe has so few very large galaxies.
Until now it was unclear whether quasars were powerful enough to produce such vast galaxies as some seen in the distant universe, but the researchers established that both SDSS J1106+1939 and one other quasar each have tremendous outflows.
They are now studying a further 12 similar quasars to determine whether the same is true of other luminous quasars spread across the universe.