In the Atacama

Extremely rare triple quasar discovered using Chilean telescope

ESO’s New Technology Telescope at La Silla Observatory helped scientists document the unusual finding, only the second of its kind ever found.

Thursday, April 04, 2013  
La Silla Observatory in the Atacama Desert. Photo courtesy of ESO/J. Pérez. La Silla Observatory in the Atacama Desert. Photo courtesy of ESO/J. Pérez.

 

For only the second time in history, scientists have discovered evidence of a triple quasar - a very rare astronomical phenomenon that is extremely difficult to observe.

A quasar is a bright, powerful source of energy surrounding a black hole at the center of a galaxy. From observatories on Earth, it can be very challenging to differentiate multiple bodies of this type from one another, making the detection of triple quasars extremely challenging.

By combining telescope observations from the La Silla Observatory in Chile and the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain, scientists were able to discover three unique sources of quasar energy, which confirm the triplet quasar presence.

Unlike most quasars, this quasar triplet was not found near an ultra-luminous infrared galaxy. This may suggest that the triplet is part of a grander structure still undergoing formation, according to the research team.

Dr. Michele Fumagalli of Princeton University and Carnegie Observatories is senior author of the paper, which was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. He told the Carnegie Institution of Science that the unique discovery will help scientists answer questions about the formation of our universe. 

"Honing our observational and modeling skills and finding this rare stellar phenomenon will help us understand how cosmic structures assemble in our universe and the basic processes by which massive galaxies form," Dr. Fumagalli said.

About the La Silla Observatory

The La Silla Observatory was the first observatory created by the European Southern Observatory in Chile’s Atacama Desert, and it has remained an important contributor to the global astronomy community since the 1960s.

The New Technology Telescope, which scientists used to identify the triple quasar, was the first in the world to have a computer-controlled main mirror - a technology first developed at ESO in Chile and is now used in telescopes around the world.

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