When we talk of quasars, we think: early universe; angry black holes in the centers of galaxies; gobs of energy; the ancient light of which is used today by astronomers to understand the primordial cosmos and the expansion of space-time. But what if I told you that astronomers have not only discovered a quasar in our modern Universe, but they’ve also discovered it right in our intergalactic back yard?
That’s right, the nearby spiral galaxy Andromeda is strutting some quasar bling.
But don’t go thinking Andromeda is having some galactic-sized delusions of grandeur, this particular quasar is a pipsqueak compared to the quasars of old. That said, microquasar XMMU J004243.6+412519 is something of a celebrity — it’s the first microquasar to be discovered beyond our own galaxy.
Microquasars are, basically, stellar-mass black holes feasting on matter. Typically, these objects can be found consuming an unfortunate stellar sibling. The immense gravitational force of the black hole drags the neighboring star’s plasma into a superheated disk, generating intense X-rays. In the process of this star cannibalization, particles are also ejected at relativistic speeds from the black hole’s poles, radiating radio emissions. The result? A microquasar.