What Is A Quasar?

There is no doubt that we’ve discovered a wide variety of unusual entities in our cosmos. With hundreds of years of watching the stars and trying to understand the known universe, these unusual entities end up going unexplained for long periods. One of the best examples of a long-unexplained entity is the Quasar.

Quasars are the brightest objects in the known universe. Scientists believe that these large entities are powered by supermassive black holes that are at the core of galaxies. Black holes, as most of you know, do not release any visible light. Instead, this light that we see from quasars is actually from the mass of stars and gas that surround it. This mass is known as an accretion disk. As the gas in this disk collapses into the black hole, electromagnetic radiation is released. This electromagnetic radiation can be observed by humans. 

The term “quasar” comes from a combination of ‘Quasi’ and ‘stellar’, a term which was coined by Hong-Yee Chiu, a Chinese astrophysicist. The reason for the name is because the nature of quasars are unknown.  The strongest quasars in the universities are thousands of times brighter than the Milky Way.

When Was the Quasar Discovered?

Quasars were discovered in 1963 by a man named Maarten Schmidt. It was the last piece in  the puzzle to support the theory of the Big Bang. Maarten was working as an astronomer at Mt. Palomar Observatory at the time, when he discovered the furthest object that had ever been observed from that time. This object was originally thought to be a star, as it was so incredibly bright. The problem was, it was billions of light years away and the Doppler Shift lines that identifies stars did not emit the anticipated wavelengths. 

The entity that he was studying was known as 3C 273. Upon much observation, he realized that the strange Doppler Shift lines were actually hydrogen gas lines. It was then that he knew he had discovered something completely new. This discovery helped us to realize that the universe was at least ten times bigger than we had originally thought. 

Biggest Quasar Known to Man

Scientists have long known that quasars are some of the largest objects in space. Many of them can stretch hundreds of million of light years wide. This is why it is pretty awesome to consider the fact that a group of scientists were blown when they found a mass of 73 separate quasars about 9 billion light years from our planet.

This massive structure is known as the LQG (Large Quasar GRoup). So far, it has completely undermined a prominent cosmological principle, which is the fact that the universe should be constant when it is analyzed at a massive scale.

Quasar Fun Facts

DRAGN (Double Radio Source Active Galactic Nucleus) is a mind-blowing phenomenon that stems from quasar jets, which shoot deep into space. The jets that shoot out of a quasar explode into a web of hot gas, otherwise known as an intergalactic medium, or the space between two galaxies. These DRAGNs can reach 1.5 million light years from one end to the next, far larger than the galaxy where the quasar was first produced.

Quasars are only detectable using radio telescopes, as they only appear to be bright stars on a standard optical telescope. Even the main differences between quasars and regular stars are very difficult to identify with great telescopes like the Hubble. While a normal star may be around one-hundred light years away, it is crazy to think that it looks similar to a telescope compared to a quasar that is billions of light years away.

How Far Is The Nearest Quasar?

The closest-known quasar to Earth was recently discovered in 2015 by the Hubble telescope. This quasar, known as Markarian 231, which was originally discovered back in 1969 because of its strong UV radiation properties, has just recently been “rediscovered”. Scientists now know that it is powered by what is known as a “double black hole”, two black holes that are spinning around each other.

Not only is this finding cool, as it is now the closest-known quasar, but it also suggests that two supermassive black holes may fall into each other’s orbit, creating a merger between multiple galaxies. The monumental amount of energy between two black holes shines incredibly bright, brighter than billions of stars that populate the galaxy. 

Latest Quasar News

New evidence is suggesting that quasars have the ability to support formations of stars when they form. Researchers using the European Space Agency’s XMM Newton Telescope stumbled upon a strange blip in a quasar. They theorized that it must be a star formation. Scientists are now classifying these quasars as “cold quasars”, which are essentially galaxies with quasars at the center that have an abundance of cold gas and the ability to produce stars. These cold quasars could give some insight into how our universe will eventually end.

A mysterious disk of material was recently found in space. The crazy part is, the astronomy community says it should not be there. This disk, which is inside NGC 3147, is spinning around a large supermassive black hole about 130 million light years from us. The even stranger part is that the disk looks like it should have a quasar in the center providing a beacon of light, though the quasar is not there. The center of the black hole is also dead silent, which is strange considering the fact that we are usually able to pick up radio waves.


With beauty and mystery, quasars help us to explain the vast expansion that our universe is going through. Their light continues to shine bright, acting as beacons for us to explore further than ever before.