Astrophysicists have spotted a faraway object that’s hotter than any contemporary theory can explain, a discovery that might require scientists rewriting galaxy operation manuals for years to come. The first fruits of these mind-boggling observations were just published by an international group of scientists led by the Russian astrophysicist Yuri Kovalev in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.
(Article by Anatoly Zak)
“I believe that behind this remarkable result lies a new chapter in the exploration of the faraway universe,” said Nikolai Kardashev, the head of the Spektr-R (Radioastron) orbital observatory project, which was instrumental in the latest breakthrough.
Working in tandem with ground-based radio telescopes around the world, the Russian Spektr-R satellite, orbiting more than 200,000 miles from Earth, can listen to radio signals from across the universe with unprecedented clarity. In the latest effort, Earth-based radio telescopes in the continental United States, Germany, and Puerto Rico joined with Spektr-R to achieve a resolution thousands of times higher than it is possible with the Hubble Space Telescope. The sprawling combined telescope then focused on the famous Quasar 3C273 in the constellation Virgo. Half a century ago, this same object became the first to be identified as a super-bright core of a faraway galaxy. The bizarre object was so luminous that it almost completely overwhelmed the combined glow all the stars in its host galaxy located billions of light years away from our own Milky Way. It turned out that like many of its siblings, Quasar 3C273 hides a giant black hole at its center that sucks in material around it and spews out narrow jets of plasma back into space.
Not surprisingly, astrophysicists are fascinated by the super-extreme conditions at the heart of quasars, and after years of research, scientists postulated that jets of plasma emitted by quasars could not reach more than 500 billion degrees kelvin. According to the current theory, the heating beyond that threshold would cause a massive transfer of energy from electrons to photons and result in quick cooling. However, the latest measurements made possible by Spektr-R show that some mysterious mechanism brings the effective temperature at the core of the quasar to a seemingly impossible range from 20 to 40 trilliondegrees—at least 10 times above the theoretical ceiling. And this particular quasar may not even be the most intense.
“I can hint you that there are objects from which we expect much higher brightness than the one we see in 3C273,” Spektr-R project scientist Yuri Kovalev tells Popular Mechanics. The ongoing research project has already taken the temperature of nearly 200 objects in the universe, he says, and a multinational group of scientists is now busy processing the results.