Chapter 27 Active Galaxies, Quasars, and Supermassive Black Holes
Collaborative Group Activities
- When quasars were first discovered and the source of their great energy was unknown, some astronomers searched for evidence that quasars are much nearer to us than their redshifts imply. (That way, they would not have to produce so much energy to look as bright as they do.) One way was to find a “mismatched pair”—a quasar and a galaxy with different redshifts that lie in very nearly the same direction in the sky. Suppose you do find one and only one galaxy with a quasar very close by, and the redshift of the quasar is six times larger than that of the galaxy. Have your group discuss whether you could then conclude that the two objects are at the same distance and that redshift is not a reliable indicator of distance. Why? Suppose you found three such pairs, each with different mismatched redshifts? Suppose every galaxy has a nearby quasar with a different redshift. How would your answer change and why?
- Large ground-based telescopes typically can grant time to only one out of every four astronomers who apply for observing time. One prominent astronomer tried for several years to establish that the redshifts of quasars do not indicate their distances. At first, he was given time on the world’s largest telescope, but eventually it became clearer that quasars were just the centers of active galaxies and that their redshifts really did indicate distance. At that point, he was denied observing time by the committee of astronomers who reviewed such proposals. Suppose your group had been the committee. What decision would you have made? Why? (In general, what criteria should astronomers have for allowing astronomers whose views completely disagree with the prevailing opinion to be able to pursue their research?)
- Based on the information in this chapter and in Black Holes and Curved Spacetime, have your group discuss what it would be like near the event horizon of a supermassive black hole in a quasar or active galaxy. Make a list of all the reasons a trip to that region would not be good for your health. Be specific.
- Before we understood that the energy of quasars comes from supermassive black holes, astronomers were baffled by how such small regions could give off so much energy. A variety of models were suggested, some involving new physics or pretty “far out” ideas from current physics. Can your group come up with some areas of astronomy that you have studied in this course where we don’t yet have an explanation for something happening in the cosmos?