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What is your definition of a quasar?
This is best answered with history. When radio telescopes were first
turned on the heavens, point sources of radio waves were discovered (along
with spread-out regions of emission along our Milky Way). Astronomers
using ordinary visible-light telescopes turned toward these radio points
and looked to see what was there. In some cases a supernova remnant was
found, in others, a large star-birth region, in others a distant galaxy.
But in some places where point sources of radio waves were found, no
visible source other than a stellar-looking object was found (it looked
like a point of like --- like a star does). These objects were called the
"qausi-stellar radio sources", or "quasars" for short. Later, it was found
these sources could not be stars in our galaxy, but must be very far away
--- as far as any of the distant galaxies seen. We now think these objects
are the very bright centers of some distant galaxies, where some sort of
energetic action is occurring, most probably due to the presence of a
supermassive black hole at the center of that galaxy (supermassive = made
up from a mass of about a billion solar masses).
What do quasars have to do with black holes?
See the above answer. It is thought the infall of matter into the
supermassive black hole can result in very hot regions where huge energies
are released, powering the quasar (i.e., producing the emitted light,
How big are quasars compared to galaxies?
Well, the region of intense visible emission is quite small compared to the
rest of the galaxy that it is imbedded in. The visible emission only occurs
very near the center of the galaxy. On the other hand, huge regions of
radio emission, produced by the quasar, can stretch out to large distances
outside the galaxy.
Why do some quasars give off radio waves?
The electrons near the center of the quasar can be accelerated to speeds
near the speed of light. In the presence a magnetic field (which is
present in these same regions), the electrons move along helical paths
(paths that look like a stretched out slinky), and as a result, they emit
radio waves (it's
called synchrotron radiation, since these waves are observed on Earth when
physicists send high energy electrons around in circles using magnetic
fields, in particle accelerators call synchrotrons).
About how long do quasars last?
It appears galaxies may only act as quasars during the early stages of
their lives, but it would still be for times of billions of years.
How long does it take for a quasar to form?
Nobody really knows, since we don't know exactly how they form! However,
it can't take much longer than something like a billion years (the apparent
answer to all questions about cosmology!).
How do quasars form?
See the above. But it's thought the process begins as gas collects near
the center of a galaxy.
How difficult are quasars to study?
Not all that difficult, if you have a huge telescope! The Hubble
Telescope, for example, is quite nice for various studies of quasars.
Can anything develop from quasars after they die?
Probably, the only thing that would be left is the supermassive black hole.
In other words, the gas near it would have been used up, and so the quasar
shuts off. But the remaining stars, etc., in the galaxy as a whole (i.e.,
not near the very center of the galaxy), would, of course, still be there.
What reasons do you find quasars interesting?
For one, they are only seen far away. Thus, since the light takes
billions of years to get to us from a quasar, the quasars are all very old.
There are no nearby quasars, so there are no young quasars; quasars are not
made during our era of the universe, only during an ancient era.
This also implies the universe was different place in the
past (billions of years ago). It also says the galaxies we see around us
now may have been quasars in the distant past; even our Milky Way galaxy
may have been a quasar-like galaxy long ago --- now not much material falls
into the large black hole at the Milky Way's center, so the radiation
output from the center is not as great as it used to be.
Are the radio-waves from objects in space any threat to us?
No, they are extremely weak. The total energy collected by radio
astronomers over the history of radio astronomy amounts to about the energy
required for a mosquito to make one "push-up"!! The reason we don't receive
lots more radiation is that the sources (e.g., the quasars) are so very far
How do some Quasars become radio-quiet?
That's not a well understood thing. It my have to do with the nature of
the environment around the central black hole, the size of the black
hole itself, and/or the
orientation of the black hole and its surrounding, radiating disk of
infalling material, as seen from Earth.
Do quasars have anything in common with a regular star?
No, except that quasars are in galaxies of stars.
How are BL Lac objects formed compared to the way a quasar is formed?
No real big difference. There are some "minor" differences having to do
with time scales of intensity variation, and the presence or absence of
certain features in the spectra of these objects.
Are quasars related to pulsars? If so how?
A pulsar is a much smaller mass object, much smaller in radius and not a
black hole, but a neutron star (it "failed" to become a black hole during
its birth due to a supernova explosion of some single star). However, the
neutron star is nearly as compact as a black hole of that star's mass.
Magnetic fields near the blackhole and a pulsar may be similar in
structure and have something to do with some energy output of each.
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