Quasar Tsunamis Turning Their Own Galaxies to Smithereens

NASA researchers have discovered the most energetic outflows ever to be witnessed in the Universe.
Fabienne Lang

Almost every galaxy in the Universe has a supermassive black hole in its center, which swallows up immense amounts of matter while letting out huge amounts of radiation. Some of the biggest of these are called quasars. These are some of the most energetic objects in our entire Universe. 

A team of NASA researchers has observed the most energetic outflows ever to be witnessed in our Universe through the Hubble Space Telescope. These come from quasars that tear across Space like tsunamis  — hence why they are sometimes referred to as "tsunami quasars."

Their findings were published in a series of six papers in the Astrophysical Journal Supplements this March.


13 quasar outflows

A quasar is an incredible sight, able to shine a thousand times brighter than a galaxy of 100 billion stars. Even though this may be an awesome sight to behold, the NASA researchers state that this very same radiation is what places quasars on our map as what may be devastating the galaxies that host them. 

Observing 13 quasar outflows — gusts of high-speed radiation — over a number of years enabled the team to discover that the wind and gas pushing out of a quasar can travel at speeds of more than 64 million kph (40 million mph), and reach billions of degrees in temperature. 

One of the outflows the team studied went from 69 million kph (43 million mph) up to 74 million kph (46 million mph) over the space of three years. This makes it the fastest detected wind to be observed in Space. 

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Such high speeds are what may be tearing up the galaxies that host these quasars. These findings could help researchers answer the long-standing question about our UniverseWhy do large galaxies seem to stop growing after reaching a certain mass? 

After adding their new quasar outflow information into models of galaxy formation, the team discovered that these gales of radiation were able to stop the birth of new stars in large galaxies. 

The researchers keep studying these quasar outflows to gain even more precise information, but their work could lead to some big questions about our Universe being answered.  

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