spaceSpace and Physics

New Extremely Red Quasar Population Is Something Never Seen Before


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockNov 16 2016, 17:53 UTC

Artist's impression of what a quasar looks like. ESO/M. Kornmesser

An international team of astronomers has found that a recently discovered population of extremely red quasars (ERQs) have characteristics that had not been seen before in the general quasar family. These ERQs were discovered last year as part of the BOSS project by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

The scientists set out to discover how many such objects there are out there and to determine their basic properties. They discovered that these ERQ's are possibly very young and just beginning to experience their quasar phase, which is when the supermassive black hole in the galactic core is undergoing a feeding frenzy.


The research, which is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, suggests that these objects have a very dusty core that shrouds the supermassive black hole, whose light appears red to our instruments.

The analysis, led by Frederick Hamann from UC Riverside, suggests that these objects have a higher-than-expected incidence of powerful gas outflows that could turn into galaxy-wide winds, which play a crucial role in how many stars a particular galaxy might end up producing.

Although stars are incredibly hot, they require very cold gas to form as the gas needs to condense enough until it collapses under its own weight and starts nuclear fusion reactions. The outflows from the quasars can compress the gas, helping star formation in some cases, but often the gas is so hot that it actually stops new stars from forming.


The researchers need to do more work to quantify the impact of these outflows on the stellar population, but it’s clear that what they have observed are extreme objects. Strong outflows are 50 times more common in the ERQs than other quasars with wind speeds of over 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) per second. One of the 97 objects actually had outflows reaching a speed of over 8,700 kilometers (5,400 miles) per second.

Further observation will hopefully expand our knowledge of these new and incredible celestial objects.

spaceSpace and Physics
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  • quasars,

  • Extremely red quasars,

  • Sloan digital sky survey