Scientists working with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey have observed a massive quasar rapidly running out of fuel over the past 12 years.
Researchers working with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, or SDSS, have just announced a stunning discovery. According to a report from scientists have reported that a massive quasar, named SDSS J1-11+5442, has finally run out of gas.
Researchers working with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, or SDSS, have just announced a stunning discovery. According to a report from Phys.org, scientists have reported that a massive quasar, named SDSS J1-11+5442, has finally run out of gas.
Researchers reported their conclusion at the January 8 meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Kissimmee, FL. They attempted to explain why the quasar had changed so rapidly since its discovery.
According to Professor Scott Anderson, the principal investigator of the SDSS’s Time-Doman Spectroscopic Survey, “We are used to thinking of the sky as unchanging. The SDSS gives us a great opportunity to see that change as it happens.”
A quasar is the highly dense area at the center of massive galaxies, typically surrounding a black hole. The black hole at the middle of J1011+5442, for perspective, has nearly 50 million times the mass as our own sun. The black hole is a voracious consumer of the superheated gas surrounding it, and it emits high energy light and radio waves back out into space.
SDSS astronomers have been observing the quasar since 2003, and they believed it would continue to emit powerful waves at a constant rate. By measuring the spectrum of the energy coming from the quasar, they were able to understand the properties of the gas being consumed by the black hole, as well as the rate at which it was consumed. They used the telltale signature of the “hydrogen-alpha” line in the spectrum to determine exactly how much gas was being consumed.
When they returned their attention to the quasar in 2015, however, researchers were shocked to see that there was a huge drop in activity. They confirmed their findings with observations from other telescopes, and found that the black hole at the center of the quasar appeared to have had its fill.
“The difference was stunning and unprecedented,” reported graduate student John Ruan, a member of the University of Washington research team that carried out the study. “The hydrogen-alpha emission dropped by a factor of 50 in less than 12 years, and the quasar now looks like a normal galaxy.”
A press release from SDSS describing the case of the missing quasar can be found here.