Astronomers have stated that a distant quasar appears to have dimmed dramatically during the last decade.
Astronomers from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) have stated that they can’t find any sign of the supermassive black hole at the center of the quasar named SDSS J1011+5442. It must be noted that the black hole is still there; however, the super-bright quasar it powered by swallowing the gas in its vicinity has disappeared over the past ten years. With the gas fallen into the black hole, it now appears as a normal galaxy.
Scott Anderson, astronomy professor at the SDSS, and principal investigator at SDSS’s Time-Domain Spectroscopic Survey (TDSS), said, “We are used to thinking of the sky as unchanging. The SDSS gives us a great opportunity to see that change as it happens.”
According to the astronomers, quasars are the compact area at the center of large galaxies, which are usually surrounding a massive black hole. As the black hole gobbles up superheated gas, it emits vast amounts of light and radio waves. The black hole at the center of J1011+5442, is some 50 million times more massive than our sun.
The astronomers at SDSS made their first observations of J1011+5442 in 2003. They measured the spectrum of the quasar, which let them understand the properties of the gas being swallowed by the black hole. They measured another spectrum for this quasar in early 2015, and noticed a huge decrease between 2003 and 2015. The team made use of additional observations by other telescopes over those 12 years to narrow down the period of change.
Jessie Runnoe, a postdoctoral researcher at Pennsylvania State University, and who is part of the study, said, “This is the first time we’ve seen a quasar shut off this dramatically, this quickly. Essentially, it has run out of food, at least for the moment. We were fortunate to catch it before and after.”
The changing look quasar is the first major discovery of TDSS, which will continue to be operational for the next several years, and which promises many more surprising discoveries in the future.