ScienceShot: Quasar Caught Dining on a Galaxy

Humbling as it seems, even whole galaxies can be ripped apart—as is the one in the red area near the center of this image. The culprit? A quasar (yellow), a galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its center that creates so much radiation it outshines everything else in the universe. Until now, astronomers have had a hard time getting much of a look at these cosmic beacons, because their light obscures everything around them. But this quasar, known as SDSS J0123+00, is obscured by a thick doughnut of dust called a torus (inset). That's allowed astronomers to sneak a peak at the beast as it rips away giant clouds of gas (green) from a nearby galaxy. The finding, reported in an upcoming issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomy Society, confirms a long-held theory about quasars: They power their intense luminescence by dining on the gas of other galaxies.

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Posted in Space