My First Quasar!

Constellation: Virgo

Magnitude: +12.9Redshift: 0.158
Distance: 2.443 billion light years.FOV: 71.7 x 47.6 arcmin
Exposure: 225 sec x 4 = 15 minutesOrientation: Up is 230 degrees E of N
Image Date: 2021-04-02

Quasar 3C 273

This was the first quasar to be identified. It is optically the brightest quasar in the sky and is also one of the closest. It’s estimated distance is over 2.4 billion light years. Yes that’s right, you read the word ‘billion’ correctly.

3C 273 looks just like any common old star in our own galaxy – but it lies at the centre of a remote giant elliptical galaxy an astounding 2.4 billion light years away!

This is my first quasar image and it’s hard to imagine that such an incredibly distant object could be captured with a mere 120mm diameter refracting telescope. Realistically, at magnitude 12.9, it’s well within the reach of amateur telescopes.

What is a Quasar?

These are objects which have extremely luminous active galactic nuclei, with a supermassive black hole surrounded by an accretion disc. Gas in the disc emits electromagnetic radiation as it falls towards the black hole. The most powerful quasars have luminosities thousands of times greater than a galaxy such as the Milky Way.

How Do I know it’s the Quasar?

For the record, here is the verification image from the Aladin website which enabled me to identify the object in my own image by recognising the unique star patterns around it.. Note the purple crosshairs. Unlike my image, this is North up.

Location of 3C 273 in Virgo

Location of Virgo Constellation

Images courtesy of nova.astrometry.net

If the images do not appear it is because the Astrometry website is sometimes off line.


Telescope Details

SkyWatcher Esprit 120 mm apochromatic 3-element refractor; 840 mm f/l @ f/7.
Field flattener; ZWO Duo-band Hα (656nm) and [OIII] (500nm) filter.
SkyWatcher EQ6-R Pro mount; ZWO ASI120 guide camera.
Imaging camera: ZWO ASI 071 MC Pro (CMOS 28.4mm 16 Mpx).
Software: Telescope control: Cartes du Ciel, EQMOD, PHD2, Imaging: SharpCap, Gimp.
Observatory location: 34° South.

Images © Roger Powell

I’m a founder member of Macarthur Astronomical Society


16 Comments

  1. Congratulations!!! Really impressive capture, and documentation. Just the mental perception of the enormous distance between that unique “star” and the foreground is mind boggling! M 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jim. As you would be aware, astronomy ideals with the big and the small. In this case the distance is big but the appearance is small, so the cross hairs are essential.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It must be pretty bright to be seen at that distance . . . I imagine people (beings) living closer to it need very good sunglasses during the day and excellent light-blocking drapes to get any sleep at all at night. And not to mention the sunblock . . . SPF 10^14 would be the minimum.

    Seriously, congratulations on the milestone.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s an interesting point to ponder, Emilio.

      I suspect that due to the copious amount of energy emitted by these beasts, life forms as we know them would not survive in that particular region.

      However, my understanding is that quasars are only observed in the distant Universe, meaning they are somehow linked to early galaxy evolution. Hence hypothetical beings living closer along the line of sight to it would see a less active galaxy and those who may live much closer would not even observe it as a quasar.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ten million to a few billion years is what I read, but that would still leave a big-ass black hole hanging around . . . it’s not clear to me, but no amount of sunblock would help you if you’re close to a hugimongously large black hole.

        . . . wouldn’t it be something if the universe had already ended and we just don’t know it yet as we wait for the information to reach us?

        Like

        1. I think such a black hole would blind you, then sterilise you, then fry you. If you survived that, the fast orbit would kill you with dizziness, before you get torn apart and disassembled into atoms, then neutrons and then become ‘part’ of a singularity.

          As for the end of the Universe, I can’t wait to find out what happens after that.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. To be brutally honest, neither did I until I decided to try. There are several other quasars within the capacity of back yard ‘scopes – but they are all immensely distant and small.

      Liked by 2 people

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