Quasar tsunamis rip through space

This artist’s concept of a distant galaxy with an active quasar at its centre shows the large amount of energy generated by a supermassive black hole.

Fuelled by infalling matter, the pressure from the blistering radiation from the black hole pushes material away from the galaxy centre at a fraction of the speed of light, shining 1,000 times brighter than the galaxy itself. 

Using NASA’S Hubble Space Telescope, researchers found that the “quasar winds” propel hundreds of solar masses of material into the gas and dust surrounding the entire galaxy, preventing the formation of new stars. 

“No other phenomena carries more mechanical energy,” says principal investigator Nahum Arav of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. “Over the lifetime of 10 million years, these outflows produce a million times more energy than a gamma-ray burst.” 

The collision of this cosmic tsunami and interstellar material creates a brilliant celestial display for anyone witnessing the event. 

“You’ll get lots of radiation first in X-rays and gamma rays, and afterwards it will percolate to visible and infrared light,” says Arav. “You’d get a huge light show – like Christmas trees all over the galaxy.”

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