Weekend Featured Image: Ist Ever Hubble Photo of a Galaxy-Eating Supermassive Black Hole

Hubbledirect

This picture shows a quasar that has been gravitationally lensed by a galaxy in the foreground, which can be seen as a faint shape around the two bright images of the quasar. Observations of one of the images show variations in color over time. This is caused by stars within the lens galaxy passing through the path of the light from the quasar, magnifying the light from different parts of the quasar's accretion disc as they move.

This has allowed a team of scientists to reconstruct the color and temperature profile of the accretion disc with unprecedented precision. The level of detail involved is equivalent to being able to study individual grains of sand on the surface of the Moon while standing on Earth.


Scientists used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to observe the quasar accretion disc — a glowing disc of matter that is slowly being sucked into its galaxy's central black hole. Their study makes use of gravitational lensing to give an immense boost to the power of the telescope. The precision of the method has allowed astronomers to directly measure the disc's size and temperature across different parts of the disc.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA and J.A. Muñoz (University of Valencia)

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