Astronomy Picture of the Day
APOD: 1998 December 11 - High Redshift Quasars
Explanation: Each red speck indicated above is a powerful quasar estimated to be over 100 times brighter than a galaxy. Yet in these Sloan Digital Sky Survey discovery images the quasars appear faint because they are extremely distant. Their distances have been indirectly gauged by noting how much the light they emit has been stretched to longer wavelengths by the expansion of the Universe. Because red light has the longest wavelengths in the visible spectrum, this stretch has come to be called "redshift" - the greater the distance, the greater the redshift. Astronomers use a number known as "Z" to quantify this cosmological redshift and the quasar at the left, with a Z of 5, was just proclaimed the new quasar redshift champion (from left to right the measured Zs are 5.00, 4.90, 4.75). What's the actual distance to quasars with Zs of 5 or so? ... about 15 billion light-years, give or take a few billion light-years depending on your favorite cosmology!
APOD: 1997 December 6 - 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 neighborhoods: the quasars themselves appear as the bright star-like objects with diffraction spikes. The images in the center 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 center of the false color 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 center.
Authors & editors:
& Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.