Astronomy Picture of the Day
APOD: 2003 May 20 - A Primordial Quasar
Explanation: What did the first quasars look like? The nearest quasars are now known to be supermassive black holes in the centres of galaxies. Gas and dust that falls toward a quasar glows brightly, sometimes outglowing the entire home galaxy. The quasars that formed in the first billion years of the universe are more mysterious, though, with even the nature of the surrounding gas still unknown. Above, an artist's impression shows a primordial quasar as it might have been, surrounded by sheets of gas, dust, stars, and early star clusters. Exacting observations of three distant quasars now indicate emission of very specific colours of the element iron. These Hubble Space Telescope observations, which bolster recent results from the WMAP mission, indicate that a whole complete cycle of stars was born, created this iron, and died within the first few hundred million years of the universe.
APOD: 2002 March 9 - A Quasar Portrait Gallery
Explanation: Quasars (QUASi-stellAR objects) lie near the edge of the observable Universe. Discovered in 1963, astronomers were astounded that such objects could be visible across billions of light-years, as this implies they must emit prodigious amounts of energy. Where does the energy come from? Many believe the quasar's central engine is a giant black hole fueled by tremendous amounts of infalling gas, dust, and stars. This gallery of quasar portraits from the Hubble Space Telescope offers a look at their local neighbourhoods: the quasars themselves appear as the bright star-like objects with diffraction spikes. The images in the centre and right hand columns reveal quasars associated with disrupted colliding and merging galaxies which should provide plenty of debris to feed a hungry black hole.
APOD: 1999 December 26 - Gamma-Ray Quasar
Explanation: The bright object in the centre of the false colour image above is quasar 3C279 viewed in gamma-rays, photons with more than 40 million times the energy of visible light. Like all quasars, 3C279 is a nondescript, faint, star-like object in the visible sky. Yet, in June of 1991 a gamma-ray telescope onboard NASA's orbiting Compton Gamma Ray Observatory unexpectedly discovered that it was one of the brightest objects in the gamma-ray sky. Shortly after this image was recorded the quasar faded from view at gamma-ray energies. Astronomers are still trying to understand what causes these enigmatic objects to flare so violently. Another quasar, 3C273, is faintly visible above and to the right of centre.
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