VLT detects unexpected giant glowing halos around distant quasars

October 26, 2016, ESO
This mosaic shows 18 of the 19 quasars observed by an international team of astronomers, led by the ETH Zurich, Switzerland. Each observed quasar is surrounded by a bright gaseous halo. It is the first time that a survey of quasars shows such bright halos around all of the observed quasars.The discovery was made using the MUSE instrument at ESO's Very Large Telescope. Credit: ESO/Borisova et al.

An international collaboration of astronomers, led by a group at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland, has used the unrivalled observing power of MUSE on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at ESO's Paranal Observatory to study gas around distant active galaxies, less than two billion years after the Big Bang. These active galaxies, called quasars, contain supermassive black holes in their centres, which consume stars, gas, and other material at an extremely high rate. This, in turn, causes the galaxy centre to emit huge amounts of radiation, making quasars the most luminous and active objects in the Universe.

The study involved 19 quasars, selected from among the brightest that are observable with MUSE. Previous studies have shown that around 10% of all quasars examined were surrounded by halos, made from gas known as the intergalactic medium. These halos extend up to 300 000 light-years away from the centres of the quasars. This new study, however, has thrown up a surprise, with the detection of large halos around all 19 quasars observed—far more than the two halos that were expected statistically. The team suspects this is due to the vast increase in the observing power of MUSE over previous similar instruments, but further observations are needed to determine whether this is the case.

"It is still too early to say if this is due to our new observational technique or if there is something peculiar about the quasars in our sample. So there is still a lot to learn; we are just at the beginning of a new era of discoveries", says lead author Elena Borisova, from the ETH Zurich.

The original goal of the study was to analyse the gaseous components of the Universe on the largest scales; a structure sometimes referred to as the cosmic web, in which quasars form bright nodes. The gaseous components of this web are normally extremely difficult to detect, so the illuminated halos of gas surrounding the quasars deliver an almost unique opportunity to study the gas within this large-scale cosmic structure.

The 19 newly-detected halos also revealed another surprise: they consist of relatively cold intergalactic gas—approximately 10 000 degrees Celsius. This revelation is in strong disagreement with currently accepted models of the structure and formation of galaxies, which suggest that gas in such close proximity to galaxies should have temperatures upwards of a million degrees.

It is the first time that MUSE and its unique observing capabilities have been used for a survey of this kind. The discovery shows the potential of the instrument for observing this type of object. Co-author Sebastiano Cantalupo is very excited about the new instrument and the opportunities it provides: "We have exploited the unique capabilities of MUSE in this study, which will pave the way for future surveys. Combined with a new generation of theoretical and numerical models, this approach will continue to provide a new window on cosmic structure formation and galaxy evolution."

This research was presented in the paper "Ubiquitous giant Lyα nebulae around the brightest at z ~ 3.5 revealed with MUSE", to appear in the Astrophysical Journal.

Explore further: Discovery nearly doubles known quasars from the ancient universe

Related Stories

Spooky alignment of quasars across billions of light-years

November 19, 2014

Quasars are galaxies with very active supermassive black holes at their centres. These black holes are surrounded by spinning discs of extremely hot material that is often spewed out in long jets along their axes of rotation. ...

Hubble Finds Giant Halo Around the Andromeda Galaxy

May 7, 2015

Scientists using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have discovered that the immense halo of gas enveloping the Andromeda galaxy, our nearest massive galactic neighbor, is about six times larger and 1,000 times more massive than ...

Recommended for you

New space industry emerges: on-orbit servicing

November 17, 2018

Imagine an airport where thousands of planes, empty of fuel, are left abandoned on the tarmac. That is what has been happening for decades with satellites that circle the Earth.

SpaceX gets nod to put 12,000 satellites in orbit

November 16, 2018

SpaceX got the green light this week from US authorities to put a constellation of nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit in order to boost cheap, wireless internet access by the 2020s.

Electric blue thrusters propelling BepiColombo to Mercury

November 16, 2018

In mid-December, twin discs will begin glowing blue on the underside of a minibus-sized spacecraft in deep space. At that moment Europe and Japan's BepiColombo mission will have just come a crucial step closer to Mercury.

5 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Benni
2.8 / 5 (9) Oct 26, 2016
Amazing isn't it? How with the implementation of 21st Century instrumentation that we can detect so much more visible intergalactic matter.

If science doesn't stop this progression of continuing to generate this manner of real data, there will be hell to pay from what is becoming a "tired" army of DM Enthusiasts as they continue wondering what 80% of the Universe looks like.

Tuxford
2 / 5 (8) Oct 26, 2016
Here is a non-aligned quasar seeding the surrounding surrounding giant halo.

http://phys.org/n...eus.html

And here is the result of the non-aligned quasars forming bridges there-between.

http://phys.org/n...tml#nRlv

And here is a much smaller halo around a more normal galaxy, where in the core star has not yet grown so large and therefore active in ejecting new matter therefrom.

http://phys.org/n...tml#nRlv

And here is evidence that matter is indeed ejected from the core star, burping therefrom.

http://phys.org/n...arf.html

Cap, tell us how this is all illogical? And don't say just because it violates your favorite laws. The universe is bigger than Texas.
Chris_Reeve
Oct 26, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ursiny33
1 / 5 (1) Oct 27, 2016
the abundance of electrons is ionizing gas atoms in electron exchange held by the stars gravity in orbit around it , with two different orbiting speeds of the electrons orbits and gas orbits the kinetic collisions of those atoms electron interfacing with the stars field is making that light
Benni
5 / 5 (1) Oct 27, 2016
These halos extend up to 300 000 light-years away from the centres of the quasars.


This is a halo diameter greater than the size of our galaxy at 100,000 ly diameter. Pretty far reaching this stuff.

I'm left to wondering why the halo is not being gravitationally distorted in some manner by zany Zwicky's cosmic fairy dust that should also be present at that distance & causing the VM halo to jump & dance & performing a plethora of other zany contortions.

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

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.