Earth-Space telescope system produces hot surprise

Earth-Space telescope system produces hot surprise
Artistic view of the 10-meter space radio telescope on the Russian satellite Spektr-R comprising the space-borne component of the RadioAstron mission. Credit: © Astro Space Center of Lebedev Physical Institute.

Astronomers using an orbiting radio telescope in conjunction with four ground-based radio telescopes have achieved the highest resolution, or ability to discern fine detail, of any astronomical observation ever made. Their achievement produced a pair of scientific surprises that promise to advance the understanding of quasars, supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies.

The scientists combined the Russian RadioAstron satellite with the ground-based telescopes to produce a virtual radio telescope more than 100,000 miles across. They pointed this system at a quasar called 3C 273, more than 2 billion light-years from Earth. Quasars like 3C 273 propel huge jets of material outward at speeds nearly that of light. These powerful jets emit .

Just how bright such emission could be, however, was thought to be limited by physical processes. That limit, scientists thought, was about 100 billion degrees. The researchers were surprised when their Earth-space system revealed a temperature hotter then 10 trillion degrees.

"Only this space-Earth system could reveal this temperature, and now we have to figure out how that environment can reach such temperatures," said Yuri Kovalev, the RadioAstron project scientist. "This result is a significant challenge to our current understanding of quasar jets," he added.

The observations also showed, for the first time, substructure caused by scattering of the radio waves by the tenuous interstellar material in our own Milky Way Galaxy.

"This is like looking through the hot, turbulent air above a candle flame," said Michael Johnson, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "We had never been able to see such distortion of an extragalactic object before," he added.

"The amazing resolution we get from RadioAstron working with the gives us a powerful new tool to explore not only the extreme physics near the distant supermassive black holes, but also the diffuse material in our home Galaxy," Johnson said.

The RadioAstron satellite was combined with the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia, The Very Large Array in New Mexico, the Effelsberg Telescope in Germany, and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Signals received by the orbiting radio telescope were transmitted to an antenna in Green Bank where they were recorded and then sent over the internet to Russia where they were combined with the data received by the ground-based to form the high resolution image of 3C 273.

The astronomers reported their results in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

In 1963, astronomer Maarten Schmidt of Caltech recognized that a visible-light spectrum of 3C 273 indicated its great distance, resolving what had been a mystery about quasars. His discovery showed that the objects are emitting tremendous amounts of energy and led to the current model of powerful emission driven by the tremendous gravitational energy of a .

Explore further

Space-earth system produces highest-resolution astronomical image

More information: "RadioAstron Observations of the Quasar 3C 273: a Challenge to the Brightness Temperature Limit," Y. Y. Kovalev et al., 2016 March 20, Astrophysical Journal Letters, … 7/2041-8205/820/1/L9 , Arxiv:

"Extreme Brightness Temperatures and Refractive Substructure in 3C 273 with RadioAstron," Michael D. Johnson et al., 2016 March 20, Astrophysical Journal Letters, … /2041-8205/820/1/L10 , Arxiv:

Journal information: Astrophysical Journal Letters

Citation: Earth-Space telescope system produces hot surprise (2016, March 29) retrieved 17 September 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Mar 29, 2016
In before "black holes are purely fantastical, impossible objects, it's all magnetism, blah blah".

Mar 29, 2016
While I imagine this is the kind of low-density '10 trillion degrees' that occur in space, it would mean that LHC and RHIC would have to give up on the claim of 'hottest place in the known universe'

Mar 29, 2016
GR and Big Bang puts everything of the cosmos out of focus for official cosmology! The quasar 3C 273 looks so impossibly bright through the Earth-Space telescope because it is NOT "more than 2 billion light-years from earth", but is much closer!

"An especially embarrassing skeleton in the intervening galaxy closet is the brightest apparent magnitude quasar in the sky, the famous 3C273 at z = .158. Evidence since 1966 places this brightest of quasars in the center of the Local Supercluster even though it redshift is 52 times greater." H.C. Arp :http://www.halton...ebuttals

Mar 29, 2016
You can read the paper at:

Mar 29, 2016
@Bigbangcon yeah! It's actually just a really bright light bulb on the invisible sphere 50km above the Earth made of magnets and plasma and stuff

Mar 29, 2016
@Bigbangcon yeah! It's actually just a really bright light bulb on the invisible sphere 50km above the Earth made of magnets and plasma and stuff
Don't forget the saran wrap holding in the Moon.


Apr 03, 2016
Seee folks! We do not know everything after all! How many other theories backed up only by earthbound math and so far 'accepted' due to earthbound observations will also prove to have 'surprises'? Some even our scholasticist quasi-religious debunkers will not be able to obfuscate, bury, burn by eviscerating the discoverers personally, etc.

We need to keep open minds.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more