Image: Hubble shoots Bright Quasar 3C 273

November 25, 2013
Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

(Phys.org) —This image from Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) is likely the best of ancient and brilliant quasar 3C 273, which resides in a giant elliptical galaxy in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin). Its light has taken some 2.5 billion years to reach us. Despite this great distance, it is still one of the closest quasars to our home. It was the first quasar ever to be identified, and was discovered in the early 1960s by astronomer Allan Sandage.

The term quasar is an abbreviation of the phrase "quasi-stellar radio source," as they appear to be star-like on the sky. In fact, quasars are the intensely powerful centers of distant, active galaxies, powered by a huge disc of particles surrounding a . As material from this disk falls inwards, some quasars, including 3C 273, have been observed to fire off super-fast jets into the surrounding space. In this picture, one of these jets appears as a cloudy streak, measuring some 200 000 light-years in length.

Quasars are capable of emitting hundreds or even thousands of times the entire energy output of our galaxy, making them some of the most luminous and energetic objects in the entire Universe. Of these very bright objects, 3C 273 is the brightest in our skies. If it was located 30 light-years from our own planet—roughly seven times the distance between Earth and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to us after the sun—it would still appear as bright as the sun in the sky.

WFPC2 was installed on Hubble during shuttle mission STS-61. It is the size of a small piano and was capable of seeing images in the visible, near-ultraviolet, and near-infrared parts of the spectrum.

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Protoplasmix
1 / 5 (10) Nov 25, 2013
Pretty amazing.
In this picture, one of these jets appears as a cloudy streak, measuring some 200 000 light-years in length.
Is that the distance from one end of the streak to the other, or distance from the tip of it back to the quasar? Is the streak intervening gas that's lit up by the jet or is it material ejected from the quasar during a burst of greater activity in the nucleus of the quasar?
yyz
5 / 5 (1) Nov 26, 2013
Protoplasmix, one source notes that the *radio* jet, which extends uninterrupted from the nucleus of 3C 273, is 23 arcseconds in length. At the distance of 3C 273 this corresponds to ~200,000 ly. The *optical* jet seen here is about half that length, hence ~100,000 ly in extent. The jet itself is comprised of material ejected from the quasar and shines primarily by synchrotron radiation:

http://arxiv.org/.../0605530
Protoplasmix
1 / 5 (9) Nov 26, 2013
yyz, thanks for the clarification and link to the paper on observations made with Spitzer. It's most helpful to be able to make comparisons between x-ray, optical and radio emissions.

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