An Identity Problem

Scientists resolve the nature of powerful cosmic objects.
August 6, 2019
The black hole in the middle of a Seyfert galaxy. Credit: Nasa

At the center of certain galaxies are objects of such tremendous brightness they outshine the rest of their galaxy by four orders of magnitude. Our understanding of these active galactic nuclei has progressed by leaps and bounds over the past several decades, though recently debate has centered on the identity of some of these objects.

Now, a team of researchers has settled some questions and exposed exciting new findings about these cosmic phenomena. Their results appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Quasars, the most powerful active galactic nuclei, shine like lighthouses from their home galaxies. These beams are powered by supermassive black holes millions to billions of times the mass of the sun. “The [radius of this] black hole is 1/10,000th of the distance just to our nearest star, and yet it can produce the power of 10,000 entire galaxies,” said coauthor Robert Antonucci, a physics professor at UC Santa Barbara.