Could the Milky Way become a quasar?

Could the Milky Way become a quasar?
An artists illustration of the central engine of a Quasar. These “Quasi-stellar Objects” QSOs are now recognized as the super massive black holes at the center of emerging galaxies in the early Universe. Credit: NASA

A quasar is what you get when a supermassive black hole is actively feeding on material at the core of a galaxy. The region around the black hole gets really hot and blasts out radiation that we can see billions of light-years away.

Our Milky Way is a galaxy, it has a supermassive black hole at the core. Could this black hole feed on material and become a quasar? Quasars are actually very rare events in the life of a galaxy, and they seem to happen early on in a galaxy's evolution, when it's young and filled with gas.

Normally material in the galactic disk orbits well away from the the supermassive black hole, and it's starved for material. The occasional gas cloud or stray star gets too close, is torn apart, and we see a brief flash as it's consumed. But you don't get a quasar when a black hole is snacking on stars. You need a tremendous amount of material to pile up, so it's chokes on all the gas, dust, planets and stars. An accretion disk grows; a swirling maelstrom of material bigger than our solar system that's as hot as a star. This disk creates the bright quasar, not the black hole itself.

Quasars might only happen once in the lifetime of a galaxy. And if it does occur, it only lasts for a few million years, while the black hole works through all the backed up material, like water swirling around a drain. Once the black hole has finished its "stuff buffet", the disappears, and the light from the quasar shuts off.

Sounds scary. According to New York University research scientist Gabe Perez-Giz, even though a quasar might be emitting more than 100 trillion times as much energy as the Sun, we're far enough away from the core of the Milky Way that we would receive very little of it – like, one hundredth of a percent of the intensity we get from the Sun.

here’s a supermassive black hole in the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Could this black hole become a quasar?

Since the Milky Way is already a middle aged galaxy, its quasaring days are probably long over. However, there's an upcoming event that might cause it to flare up again. In about 4 billion years, Andromeda is going to cuddle with the Milky Way, disrupting the cores of both galaxies. During this colossal event, the supermassive in our two galaxies will interact, messing with the orbits of stars, planets, gas and dust.

Some will be thrown out into space, while others will be torn apart and fed to the black holes. And if enough material piles up, maybe our Milky Way will become a quasar after all. Which as I just mentioned, will be totally harmless to us. The galactic collision? Well that's another story.

It's likely our Milky Way already was a quasar, billions of years ago. And it might become one again billions of years from now. And that's interesting enough that I think we should stick around and watch it happen. How do you feel about the prospects for our Milky Way becoming a quasar? Are you a little nervous by an event that won't happen for another 4 billion years?

Could the Milky Way become a quasar?
This annotated artist’s conception illustrates our current understanding of the structure of the Milky Way galaxy. Credit: NASA

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Source: Universe Today
Citation: Could the Milky Way become a quasar? (2015, February 27) retrieved 21 September 2019 from
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Feb 27, 2015
What bothers me is the fact that if we were an intelligent species we would be here to see what happens.

Feb 27, 2015
The Milky Way was already a 'quasar', or high-redshift object, in its infancy. The redshift of a body lowers over time, evidenced directly by Halton Arp whom observed high redshift proto-galaxies connected to large, low-redshift galaxies.

Feb 27, 2015
It looks to ol Ira-Skippy like the physorg has been taken over by the Universe Today. I wonder if he was the hostile take over or they worked out some sort of plan.

Maybe all the real scientist-Skippys had to quit writing so many papers because Really-Skippy told them to stop with the doing the wrong diligence.

Feb 27, 2015
Pierson's Puppeteers coming this-a-way.

Feb 28, 2015
It looks to ol Ira-Skippy like the physorg has been taken over by the Universe Today. I wonder if he was the hostile take over or they worked out some sort of plan
nope, it is more about the PO bot or automatically uploading articles based upon genre rather than specifics

UT is science, but is targeting the scientifically illiterate as well as the younger crowd, which is important that they learn real science
(rather than the eu, aether, anti-science spread about by so many here on PO)

it is more a thing about collecting scientific stories and putting them out there

if you will also note: a LOT of the articles that are on PO are also found verbatim in certain magazines (New Scientist, for instance)
one reason i don't subscribe to popular science magazines (like NS) is because it is all redundant and i get it here faster than in print elsewhere

Mar 01, 2015
@Rossim: according to Arp then, Andromeda galaxy is the oldest galaxy in the universe, right? And since it's redshift is so low, its actually negative, it must be older than the universe itself, eh? Also galaxies arent really rotating, just is the thing that one side of them is somewhat older than the other. That is sooooo coool.

Mar 01, 2015
Speed cyclone in the center of the galaxy creates relief galaxy. Very fast leeches create elliptical galaxies, some "becoming" quasars. High speed = much friction = radiation that we register. There is no of black holes that are volume planet or star (

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