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April 25, 2008

X-ray telescope detects freaky quasars

Posted: 09:44 AM ET

You probably know X-rays from the doctor’s office, where the high-energy radiation helps create snapshots of bones.

This artist's impression of a broad absorption line quasar shows material spewing out along the polar axes.

Far out in the depths of space, scientists have discovered a rare type of quasar emitting more X-rays than previously thought possible. The XMM-Newton, the biggest science satellite constructed in Europe, has recently given new insight into these mysterious phenomena.

Quasars are energy-pumping celestial objects thought to be powered by massive black holes. Scientists think the black hole that drives a quasar’s energy production is the center of a distant galaxy.

Here’s how quasars work: Matter that falls into the black hole gathers in a reservoir known as the “accretion disk,” which gets very hot. Some of this gas gets thrown back out into space because of the radiation and magnetic fields, escaping the pull of the black hole, according to computer simulations.

This outgoing gas can massively impact the surrounding galaxy, and even stop stars from forming.

Broad Absorption Line quasars, or BAL for short, seem to have a thick cover of gas around them. BAL quasars constitute about 10-20% of all quasars. They generally don't seem to give off many X-rays, perhaps because the gas flowing out in the direction of the disc's equator absorbs that radiation. Watch an animation of a BAL quasar from the European Space Agency.

But two of the quasars that the XMM-Newton observed in 2006 and 2007 emitted more X-rays than they expected, suggesting that these quasars do not have absorbing gas around them.

The telescope’s observations also show that, unusually, some quasars seem to eject material out along their polar axes, perpendicular to the accretion disc. Computer simulations also show that these outflows also consist of material falling in and then spewing back out because of the strong radiation, turned away before getting close to the black hole.

These surprising results may mean that BAL quasars are more complex than scientists expected. The researchers, who published their findings in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, hope to keep track of BAL quasars over a longer time period.

–Elizabeth Landau, Associate Producer, CNN.com

Filed under: Space


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stephen   April 25th, 2008 11:25 am ET

i love this article very much its so interesting and diqnifiying at the same time


www.actionforspace.com   April 25th, 2008 11:51 am ET

Maybe its like star trek deep space nine where people are harvesting the gas next to the black hole through which they travel.


Mike Partyka   April 25th, 2008 6:35 pm ET

It would be nice if scientists would focus also on answering why high-redshift quasars frequently appear in pairs, one on either side of an associated low-redshift galaxy, and why one can detect astronomic "dust clouds" connecting the quasars to the galaxy. Rather than accepting the "party line" and attributing levels of redshift to differences velocity, isn't it perhaps more accurate to attribute high redshift to relative youth and low redshift to relative agedness? And if redshift means age and not velocity, what does that mean for Big Bang theory, which relies on "redshift = velocity" to make its case?


Patrick, Albany NY   April 25th, 2008 8:22 pm ET

There's certainly some strange and powerful stuff floating around in the Universe. I appreciate the work these researchers do.


Confused   April 25th, 2008 11:43 pm ET

I don't get it but I think it is hot anyway - I am a big Liz fan!


Eduardo   April 26th, 2008 12:17 pm ET

We don't have any business exploring space, we should spend more time and money in resolving our problems here in earth first instead of watching for little star in the sky and wondering how's this or how's that.
While scientist watch space thru a lens, we have humans without education,without hope,without food, without clothing. A star or a quasar is gonna help us to feed the hungry ?,a star is gonna help us for homes ?.
what's more important space or our world problems ?
What's more important a black hole or the black hole in your packet cause you can't find a job ?.


Eduardo   April 26th, 2008 12:23 pm ET

Patrick, I should appreciate if the researchers would put those founds into a hungry kid or a program to create training programs for people to acquire knowedge to find a good job.
We should worry about down here, not up there.


jgreimer   April 26th, 2008 9:01 pm ET

Eduardo, while I too believe we shouldn't neglect poverty and illiteracy, we should not do it at the expense of research. Improving poverty and education only raises the bar of what we consider poverty and illiteracy with the result that research never is done. What is the point of education anyway if those we educate are not allowed to do research. Research provides many benefits to humanity which also benefit the the poor and illiterate.


Trey   April 26th, 2008 9:41 pm ET

Spot on, Eduardo. While this story is interesting, it really is fairly useless for the issues facing the world today. Unfortunately, human curiosity is too strong for us to attempt to deal with issues that do not affect us personally.


Mike in NYC   April 27th, 2008 12:14 am ET

Eduardo wrote:

"We should worry about down here, not up there."

By your logic, any research not immediately yielding tangible benefits should not receive public funding.

Would you oppose private funding for projects such as this?

To Mike Partyka:

You're a Halton Arp partisan, I see. His ideas are intriguing.

Who knows, maybe someday we'll see the Big Bang theory consigned to the dustbin of scientific history!


Lance   April 27th, 2008 12:37 am ET

Human curiosity is what got us where we are today, good and bad. There would be no such thing as education, jobs or money without it. And who knows, it may be the very stars above our heads which sparked the first human thought, "what are those things up there, anyways?" But don't worry, the electric light is taking care of the problem. Most of us never see stars anymore. But if you can, go out away from the city on a dark, clear night. Look up and you will appreciate why we are trying to answer that question. It is part of who we are to answer questions about the world we live in, and this includes the night sky.


akenniil   April 27th, 2008 1:50 am ET

if there are objects being ejected perpendicular to the ecretion disk, thus going away from a black hole, which supposedly absorbs all matter, including light (which is matter, according to the particle-wave duality, so don't jump on me for saying light is matter), then does that mean that those particles that have been ejected, travelled faster than light (which is supposedly impossible, as light is the fastest object according to Einstein's E=mc^2, where it states that for an object to reach the speed of light, it must have an infinite mass)? cuz if it does, that means we are either viewing anomalies in the continuum that do not behave like the physics of our area, or we are viewing the denaturing of our primitive physics.

oh and btw eduardo, approx 5/8 of medicine are due to new technology discovered via astronomy. either through experts conducted in space, or our studying of space and its physics and chemistry. So yes, by learning our universe we are indeed tryin to help that little kid in that third world country.

not enough for u? considering that our need for food and water on extraterrestrial planets is more of a reality nowadays, that modern technology will soon enough create new ways to generate food and water, which can help our kid in that third world country. so yes our analyzing and curiosity of space is making a difference on earth.

to paraphrase stephen w. hawking, the only way mankind will survive is to leave this planet, and colonize another world.


Keith Barrett   April 27th, 2008 7:54 am ET

No,I am not a nut. I am very serious about this. I am 59 years old and lived through the Moon walks. I have a Masters Degree and I am retired from the USAF/SOF. I believe we did go to the moon back in the 60s and 70s. But, with all these miraculous telescopes we have today, including the Hubble, I have one burning question I would love to hear the science community answer. Why can't we get a 2008 picture of the things the Apollo teams left on the Moon. How about a picture of the Moon Rover, the American Flag, some footprints. Too much because maybe the dust covered them up? Well, how about the lift-off platform? I understand it was pretty big. It is just amazing to me that NO ONE has ever thought of doing this or even discussed it on TV, the internet, in magazines, science jounals, or anywhere else. They have not even addressed why it could not be done. Surerly there is some left/right wing organization that can call someone's hand and ask this question. I really doubt this will be looked into, but thanks for letting me blow off steam. On second thought; maybe grandpa was right and it was all just a hoax! Maybe in 2020 when someone lands on the moon they will look around and say either: "Yep, they were here" or "Them lying S.O.B.s, thank God thay are all dead now".


Jon   April 27th, 2008 9:31 am ET

Eduardo/Trey, I disagree entirely. While there are issues on earth that are quite sad, human civilization isn't going to limit itself to parity. To solve the issues you'd need a global government and that government would have to be a socialist one, not democratic. You'd need to tell everyone, you can only have X dollars a year, you can only have Y cars, you can only live in a house worth Z. Businesses wouldn't be allowed to make a profit, they'd only be allowed to recoup expenses. If you made more than your neighbors you'd need to forfeit the balance until they were even with you, and vice versa. Finally, if you feel that research for research sake is bad, get off my internet, back in the 60's researches for the defense advanced research projects (DARPA) wanted to see if they could link computers together, not for reasons that would benefit all of humanity, but that would help the war machine in the case of a nuclear holocaust.


jim   April 28th, 2008 2:30 am ET

eduardo that is the worst argument I have ever seen. You are saying that if these people have dreams to study somthing interesting they should try to resolve world hunger. What??? No reason for your input. Maybe you should be solving these problems instead of reading articles that don't interest you


Who Has BALs?   April 28th, 2008 4:19 am ET

[...] Science Blogs has an article today about XMM-Newton observations of some unusual broad absorption line (BAL) quasars.  These [...]


Peter   April 28th, 2008 12:17 pm ET

Keith: Google has it covered: http://moon.google.com
Zoom in and you can see the rover tracks.

akenniil: There's a boundary around a black hole inside of which it become impossible for anything to escape (including light). Just outside that boundary, light can still escape, as can massive particles that are traveling very close to the speed of light. As you get farther away from the black hole it just acts like any ordinary mass like a star or a planet where stable orbits are possible.


Aussie Jane   April 28th, 2008 2:22 pm ET

Explain it to me though. I understand Dark Matter better than I do quasars. Quasars, black holes, and active galactic nuclei all sound like different names for a singularity. Is the acretion disk what makes a quasar a quasar? Because if not, it's a black hole. Why the distinction? It has a large mass, gravitational quotient, and emits x-ray and or gamma radiation. I am so confused.


Mike   April 28th, 2008 4:31 pm ET

Dear Eduardo,

Your statement really makes no sense. I don't know if you happen to follow Earth history very well, but approximately 65 million years ago a huge comet slammed into the Earth. This catastrophic event caused mass extinction. Do you want this to happen to human civilization? If we spend all our time and money on hunger and poverty alone we are destined for failure as a species. We need to understand what is out there, and how we can protect humanity as a whole. Otherwise there won't be any people left to have a home, or wear clothing.


Terry   April 28th, 2008 5:17 pm ET

Peter, those are some great images of the moon, but I cannot see any detail after zooming in. One image there appears to be tracks, but they are entirely too large for the resolution it is being displayed in.


Larry   April 29th, 2008 1:21 pm ET

Anything that can spew material out along the polar axes is cool in my book.

Larry
DamnIneedAjob.com


Brad Morse   April 29th, 2008 1:52 pm ET

I am happy we keep doing resurch if nothing else it keeps our kids interested in education. I could careless about what politics have to do with this.


John Kotches   April 29th, 2008 5:26 pm ET

akenniil:

Any matter that has not crossed the event horizon of the black hole is not yet caught in the black hole. As long as an object can equal or exceed the escape velocity on "this" side of the event horizon it can escape.

The X-rays are from matter being torn apart by tidal forces prior to crossing the event horizon. Think of it as death throes from the incredibly destructive power of the black hole.

There are other aspects including Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle that could be playing a part in this.

I am not an astrophysicist or cosmologist - just an interested spectator on the topic.


Shobs   April 30th, 2008 11:20 am ET

Isn't there a contradiction when you mention "Some of this gas gets thrown back out into space because of the radiation and magnetic fields, escaping the pull of the black hole, according to computer simulations." A black hole by definition warps space time, so, in a way, your future leads towards singularity. So, how can the gas escape the "pull" of the black hole. While, this phenomenon is true, there must be some other explanation.


paulb   April 30th, 2008 1:01 pm ET

Sometimes in science, its the journey and not necessarily the destination that is important. While to some it may seem wasteful to explore space with telescopes, send people to the moon, build a space station, etc... the amount of technology and practical uses discovered along the way to these goals is priceless. So much came about through the space program that directly affect our lives today. Practical things, such as improved weather forecasting, communications, earth imaging, computer manufacturing, electronics, power supplies, medical monitoring systems, and a myrad other devices and technologies that we take for granted were kick-started during the space race.

Science will never be the cure of all our evils. Only changes in the way we act globally will do that. Science is a hammer. It can build a house or knock someone in the head. Its a tool. Use the tool wisely.


Peter Autio   April 30th, 2008 11:22 pm ET

Most of these comments are great! Some people are so sharp while others seem to miss the big picture. To Mark Partyka who had some interesting questions regarding redshift: the situation you describe, 2 high redshift galaxies on either side of a low redshift galaxy, I believe is due to "gravitational lensing". Understanding redshift is almost an understanding of the "Big Bang Theory" or standard model. High redshift means it's far away from us. Low redshift means it's closer. High redshift means it's from an earlier time in the universe. Low redshift means it's from not so long ago in the past. So the galaxy with the low redshift is closer to us than the two behind it. The galaxy in front bends the light from the galaxies behind it. Actually because of this "gravitational lensing", the two galaxies behind the closer one are probably the same galaxy! We end up seeing double or a mirror image because of this effect. The farther we look out into space, the farther back in time we look, the higher the redshift. Redshift does mean velocity but not in the same sense we know. Some high redshifts indicate galaxies moving at close to the speed of light! How can this be? Expansion of the universe. The space in between the galaxies is increasing. On an end note: it drives me crazy when I see a simulation of the universe at time 0: the Big Bang explosion in a star field with a vantage point "outside" the explosion. This creates a totally wrong representation of the beginning. There was and still is no outside. How could there be stars in the background? Everything, matter, energy, space was in a point with no size. There is no center to this explosion. Difficult to understand but interesting.


Franko   May 1st, 2008 2:48 am ET

  
Einstein did not believe in Black Holes.
Wheeler said Black Holes have no hair
(only have mass, charge, and angular momentum)
Hawking said they evaporate
Now they can be pink blue and yellow

What next ?
Pink Elephants beaming cosmic rays to cause Global Warming ?


John Kotches   May 1st, 2008 10:02 am ET

Franko:

My replies are out of order, sorry about that.

If we look at the picture, the center of the image is black. That's the black hole. Everything else is accretion disc.

As far as Einstein goes, he was brilliant but he was unwilling to follow his equations to their end result. This includies many of his contributions to the foundations of quantum mechanics..

If we look at Hawking's work the time for the black hole to evaporate is a function of its mass. More mass == longer evaporation time. Only know would the micro-black holes created during the big bang begin to radiate away.


rigpacker   May 1st, 2008 12:45 pm ET

To the person who thinks we faked the moon landing: Let me guess, Flat Earth Society member?
All you need is a six inch mirror telescope and you can see Tranquility base. Seen it my self. and by the way, the earth is round, really!


dorn hetzel   May 1st, 2008 2:02 pm ET

without the benefits science has brought along the way, the planet could not sustain the population we already have. who will decide who can have children and who can't? eventually, however long it takes, we are going to fill this planet up. we should proceed with science and space exploration because someday, however long from now, we're going to need to look for a new home.


Shaun   May 1st, 2008 3:25 pm ET

some awsome stuff that is but is it reall obvious that it is getting us nowhere with the economy and problems we have down here. we need to focus on the problems we face rather than the problems we create and try to look for an explanation up there...


SaadK   May 1st, 2008 10:21 pm ET

Interesting article, however Doesn't the Supermassive Black Hole Suck everything, literally everything including light itself?.


Franko   May 2nd, 2008 4:30 am ET

  
Will be a while before the Black Hole in the center of the Milky way digests us. Any closer holes hungry for humans ?


John Kotches   May 2nd, 2008 5:18 pm ET

Shaun:

The pure research paper on the Photoelectric Effect by Einstein in 1905 described a property called Stimulated Emission. It took nearly 50 years before the first application (the MASER) to see the light of day. Today, lasers are commonplace.

You're right though; pure research doesn't get us anywhere immediately. Over time it goes from theory to practice to commodity.


Jen   May 3rd, 2008 12:19 am ET

Tough, Eduardo. Work harder, sacrifice and pull yourself up. Why deny the rest of us the knowledge of our universe because you lack intellectual curiousity? Be sure to burn a few people as witches on your way to work or school today, too.


Franko   May 3rd, 2008 4:20 am ET

  
Bad enough that Black Holes eat their own Galaxy,
Some leave, still hungry;
http://www.mpe.mpg.de/Highlights/PR20080429/text.html

Are the gravity waves instantaneous, or obey the posted speed ?


Carlos   May 3rd, 2008 4:20 pm ET

To those who complain about the benefits of science:
"Ung, why do you study fire? we have antelope to kill in order to survive"
"Julius, why bother learning about horses? the enemy is upon us an will kill our wives."
"Henry, sire, why set sail to new lands when we cannot educate the people of our own land?"
"Ben, my man, what's the point of generating a few electric sparks, we have a revolution to fight."

The list, of course can go on. What is the point of feeding the masses and eliminating poverty if you don't also give humanity dreams to dream and phenomena to be awed by? Solving the worlds problems and appreciating the universe in which we live in are not contradictory goals – in fact they are both critical to our survival!


Franko   May 4th, 2008 2:00 am ET

  
"Only the Paranoid Survive": Andrew S. Grove
Fear of being eaten by a lion or a black hole is motivation,

Black holes can shoot death rays at us, What about nearby black holes merging and creating killer gravity waves, similar to tsunamis ?


jawad   May 6th, 2008 6:43 pm ET

you guys are funny, it's just a big huge fart


Randy   May 6th, 2008 10:31 pm ET

We live in a very, very tiny part of the universe. We have observed what we can from here and theorized what the rest is like. We have spent billions creating giant machines (CERN, etc) to test theories, modify them, and test again. This has all happened in the last century. How can we even expect our theories to work over billions of miles or years? Every year, new subatomic particles are added. Twenty years ago, who heard of quarks? Now they are accepted. Would be wonderful to come back in 1,000 years and see where science is.

As far as helping this planet instead of looking outside, we need to do both. It was mentioned it encourages education and research that does provide answers for problems here on earth. Some need to moderate the idea of saving some things that may go away anyways with the idea of saving others. Something tells me we are not the guardians of the earth.


Franko   May 8th, 2008 1:16 am ET

There is no separation between Earth and space.
Gamma-ray bursts are postulated to have ended other civilizations
Deep impact meteors, Supernova, and
Black Holes hosing us down to extinction need our attention.

Better to pay attention than be blind sided !


jerry a. Myers   May 8th, 2008 1:34 am ET

IF the XMM NEWTON satellite is so superior in gathering data
on all areas of space science, then why is the data and equations link to the XMM inferior. IT is a logical fact that the extreme levels of the numeral and zero system is not applied to this weak-ass telescope.


Randy   May 8th, 2008 10:24 pm ET

Franko, if you can find a way to prevent any of what you mention, you will be the most brilliant and richest person on earth. Without the power to stop them, you really want to know they are coming?

Jerry, your post makes little sense. Can you provide links to your information? I really doubt a multi-million dollar satellite is not getting information we can really use. Maybe just "we" cannot get all the data? Do you belong to the group that thinks we never really went to the moon?


Franko   May 9th, 2008 1:52 am ET

. .
"Without the power to stop them"

Asteroids and possibly comets we could divert.
Definitively need to map the Solar System beyond Pluto.
But that still leaves objects passing through the Solar System.
(comets come in fast and we would need early detection.
perhaps park nuclear bomb armed rockets along likely incoming trajectories)

Gamma Ray Bursts and other cosmic ray extinction events might fry our atmosphere, so the best bet, would be on the Moon or Mercury, underground.


Randy   May 9th, 2008 11:30 pm ET

We have a hard time getting shuttle flights off in time and/or getting supply ships to the space station. Do you really think that we can get some sort of defense out into space to stop something coming at us?


Franko   May 10th, 2008 4:07 am ET

  
According to Freeman Dyson, the Space Station is welfare.

We scared each other and built nuclear weapons.
Then scared each other into not using them.
Now we are scaring each other with runaway greenhouse toasting Earth; http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=tropical-insects-may-not-thrive-in-warming-world&sc=rss

We need a scare to focus our attention, then survival planning predominates. We sent numerous robot spacecraft, not only to Mars, but actually landed one on an asteroid. The capability to develop effective measures is there.

We are inventive in killing, drone aircraft are hunting and killing terrorists Maybe kill an asteroid, to feel more secure.


Larian LeQuella   May 12th, 2008 3:45 pm ET

@Keith Barrett (From: http://www.checktheevidence.co.uk/cms/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=37 ):

CAN THE HUBBLE TELESCOPE SEE THE APOLLO CRAFT ON THE MOON?

To try to answer this question, we need to know the distance from the Earth to the Moon and the width of the Lunar Module. In the approximate calculations I have made below, I have assumed the width/diameter of the LEM to be 4.2 metres (http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Apollo-Lunar-Module#Lunar_Module_.28LM.29_specifications) and the distance from the Earth to the Moon to be 385000 km. So, with some simple trigonometry, we can work out the apparent width (in degrees) of the Lunar Module as seen from Earth. Hubble’s quoted resolution seems to be quoted as “better than 0.1 seconds of Arc” (http://www.stsci.edu/hst/HST_overview), 0.05 seconds of Arc (http://dept.physics.upenn.edu/balloon/telescope.html), 0.014 seconds of Arc (http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/solar/hst.html)

Sin Theta=2.1/385000000=5.4545X10 to -9
Therefore Theta=Sin (-1)(5.4545X10 to -9)
Therefore Theta= 3.17 X 10 to -7
Thus 2Theta=6.26X10 to -7 degrees

(Call this A)

Hubble’s resolving power is quoted at 0.05 seconds hence the resolving angle in degrees is:

alpha=.05/3600=1.389X10 to -5
(Call this B)

If Hubble’s resolution is as fine as 0.014 seconds of arc then the resolving angle in degrees is:

alpha=.014/36003.89X10 to -6
(Call this C)

I would therefore agree that, according to published figures, the angle subtended by the 2 opposite sides of the Lunar Module is approximately 22 times (resolution 0.05) too small (B/A), or 6.2 (C/A) times too small (resolution 0.014), according to the above calculations, for Hubble to see the Apollo Craft on the Moon. That is:
NO, HUBBLE CAN'T SEE APOLLO CRAFT ON THE MOON
THEY ARE JUST TOO SMALL...


Larian LeQuella   May 12th, 2008 4:04 pm ET

@Keith Barrett You CAN'T see the Apollo sites with Hubble:

http://www.checktheevidence.co.uk/cms/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=37

The math stumps us yet again!


Randy   May 12th, 2008 10:49 pm ET

Sorry, I do not agree with you. The math is ok but not perfect. I am sure other countries would have made a big deal if their orbiters did not see the Apollo stuff.

Photoshop could produce images like them on the moon but doubt it.

Back when the Apollo missions went there, we (normal people) did not have access to such software. I am willing to believe the hard working people of NASA actually went there.


Larian LeQuella   May 13th, 2008 10:45 am ET

Hubble versus other observational techniques don't apply. The radians in the equations used for Hubble are because that particular telescope is meant for deep field observations. Ever try to use a microscope for looking at a far away object, or a telescope to look at a close object? It's just optics and math. And at the distances we're talking about, and the optical resolution we're looking at, Hubble can't see the landers. I was just addressing Kieth Barrett's specific question. Now, there ARE cameras and such that are made to look at the surface of the moon with much finer resolution than Hubble can see it.

I know, it may seem a slight distinction, but science is about the seemingly trivial differences. 🙂


Larian LeQuella   May 13th, 2008 11:33 am ET

Oh, and I am not saying that we didn't land on the moon. There is sufficient evidence to say we did. 😉 I was just answering a question.


Franko   May 14th, 2008 4:22 am ET

.        
Look at the picture of USA flag on the moon,
Either the wind is blowing or there is a lot of starch in the flag.
http://calgary.rasc.ca/moonscope.htm


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