Quasar: Quiet, Distant Qusar Has Eaten Its Fill

First Posted: Jan 18, 2016 12:06 PM EST

A quiet distant quasar has apparently ran out of gas, according to astronomers with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). The researchers presented their study at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Florida, where they addressed quasar SDSS J1011+5442's drastic changes during years of observations.

"This is the first time we've seen a quasar shut off this dramatically, this quickly," Jessie Runnoe, lead author of the study, said in a news release. "Essentially, it has run out of food, at least for the moment. We were fortunate to catch it before and after."

Quasars are compact areas found at in at the center of large galaxies, which are usually surrounded by a massive black hole. The black hole at J1011+5442's center is about 50 million times the size of the sun. The researchers measured the spectrum of the quasar, where they were able to tell how much gas was sucked into the central black hole. They noticed that there was a massive decrease during 2003 and 2015. As a result the quasar eventually appeared like a normal galaxy. The change was so tremendous that the astronomical community referred to this quasar as a "changing-look quasar."

The researchers believe that this quasar has used up all of the gas in its surrounding regions, which has resulted in a massive drop in its brightness.

"We are used to thinking of the sky as unchanging. The SDSS gives us a great opportunity to see that change as it happens," said Scott Anderson, a lead researcher of the study.  

The findings of this study were published in the Monthly Notices of Royal Astronomical Society.

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