For the first time in recorded history a team of astronomers have observed four quasars shinning brightly in close proximity to each other, inside a big, thick hydrogen cloud.
They are located about 10.5 billion light-years away, in one of the farthest and most ancient corners of the universe and make up one of the most massive structures discovered so far in the distant universe.
The discovery, published on May 15, in the journal Science, was made using a 10-meter Keck I Telescope at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.
Members of the scientific community are baffled by the quasar quartet (four active super-massive black holes) found by astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.
On one hand, four quasars have a 1 in 10 million chance of being in close proximity to each other. On the other hand, the origin of the hydrogen cloud surrounding the quasars is something that scientists haven’t been able to explain.
While quasars are typically solitary and have a distance of about 100 million light-years between them, scientists believe that they sit at about 650,000 light-years away from each other inside the quartet.
There have only ever been about 100 quasars found to exist in pairs, two sets of triplets, and the newly discovered quasar quartet is the first of its kind.
The “cool” cloud of thick hydrogen gas is a definitive anomaly. Based on theoretical models such a cloud should not be able to exist at all. It does however explain how the quasars are able to exist: super-massive black holes are only able to shine as quasars if there is enough gas for them to swallow.
Joseph Hennawi, lead researcher, gave a statement saying that “The cloud (nebula) is at a temperature of 10,000 degrees. That is considered cool by astronomical standards. Given the environment that this quasar quartet is in, we expected the gas should be at 10 million degrees, or 1,000 times hotter”.
He went on to add that astronomers believe that nearly every massive galaxy, including our very own Milky Way galaxy, has a number of super-massive black holes at its centre, but that the vast majority of them are dormant
He also admitted that because of the oddity and impossibility of the cosmic structure according to current scientific wisdom, perhaps cosmologists should rethink their models of quasar evolution and the formation of massive cosmic structures. The only other explanation is a non-scientific one: they just got very lucky.
NASA informs that quasars are the brightest objects known to exist in the universe. Every single quasar is able to provide energy greater than that produced of over 100 mature galaxies put together.
They are formed when matter falls under a super-massive black hole’s gravity and gets heated up to extremely high temperatures, causing an outward explosion due to energy build up.
They are only found in distant parts of the universe, live for a very short time compared to the galaxy they reside inside, and can not be seen with the naked eye.
Image Source: smithsonianmag.com