Chapter 27 Active Galaxies, Quasars, and Supermassive Black Holes

27.6 Questions and Exercises

Review Questions

1: Describe some differences between quasars and normal galaxies.

2: Describe the arguments supporting the idea that quasars are at the distances indicated by their redshifts.

3: In what ways are active galaxies like quasars but different from normal galaxies?

4: Why could the concentration of matter at the center of an active galaxy like M87 not be made of stars?

5: Describe the process by which the action of a black hole can explain the energy radiated by quasars.

6: Describe the observations that convinced astronomers that M87 is an active galaxy.

7: Why do astronomers believe that quasars represent an early stage in the evolution of galaxies?

8: Why were quasars and active galaxies not initially recognized as being “special” in some way?

9: What do we now understand to be the primary difference between normal galaxies and active galaxies?

10: What is the typical structure we observe in a quasar at radio frequencies?

11: What evidence do we have that the luminous central region of a quasar is small and compact?

Thought Questions

12: Suppose you observe a star-like object in the sky. How can you determine whether it is actually a star or a quasar?

13: Why don’t any of the methods for establishing distances to galaxies, described in Galaxies (other than Hubble’s law itself), work for quasars?

14: One of the early hypotheses to explain the high redshifts of quasars was that these objects had been ejected at very high speeds from other galaxies. This idea was rejected, because no quasars with large blueshifts have been found. Explain why we would expect to see quasars with both blueshifted and redshifted lines if they were ejected from nearby galaxies.

15: A friend of yours who has watched many Star Trek episodes and movies says, “I thought that black holes pulled everything into them. Why then do astronomers think that black holes can explain the great outpouring of energy from quasars?” How would you respond?

16: Could the Milky Way ever become an active galaxy? Is it likely to ever be as luminous as a quasar?

17: Why are quasars generally so much more luminous (why do they put out so much more energy) than active galaxies?

18: Suppose we detect a powerful radio source with a radio telescope. How could we determine whether or not this was a newly discovered quasar and not some nearby radio transmission?

19: A friend tries to convince you that she can easily see a quasar in her backyard telescope. Would you believe her claim?

Figuring for Yourself

20: Show that no matter how big a redshift (z) we measure, v/c will never be greater than 1. (In other words, no galaxy we observe can be moving away faster than the speed of light.)

21: If a quasar has a redshift of 3.3, at what fraction of the speed of light is it moving away from us?

22: If a quasar is moving away from us at v/c = 0.8, what is the measured redshift?

23: In the chapter, we discussed that the largest redshifts found so far are greater than 6. Suppose we find a quasar with a redshift of 6.1. With what fraction of the speed of light is it moving away from us?

24: Rapid variability in quasars indicates that the region in which the energy is generated must be small. You can show why this is true. Suppose, for example, that the region in which the energy is generated is a transparent sphere 1 light-year in diameter. Suppose that in 1 s this region brightens by a factor of 10 and remains bright for two years, after which it returns to its original luminosity. Draw its light curve (a graph of its brightness over time) as viewed from Earth.

25: Large redshifts move the positions of spectral lines to longer wavelengths and change what can be observed from the ground. For example, suppose a quasar has a redshift of


At what wavelength would you make observations in order to detect its Lyman line of hydrogen, which has a laboratory or rest wavelength of 121.6 nm? Would this line be observable with a ground-based telescope in a quasar with zero redshift? Would it be observable from the ground in a quasar with a redshift of


26: Once again in this chapter, we see the use of Kepler’s third law to estimate the mass of supermassive black holes. In the case of NGC 4261, this chapter supplied the result of the calculation of the mass of the black hole in NGC 4261. In order to get this answer, astronomers had to measure the velocity of particles in the ring of dust and gas that surrounds the black hole. How high were these velocities? Turn Kepler’s third law around and use the information given in this chapter about the galaxy NGC 4261—the mass of the black hole at its center and the diameter of the surrounding ring of dust and gas—to calculate how long it would take a dust particle in the ring to complete a single orbit around the black hole. Assume that the only force acting on the dust particle is the gravitational force exerted by the black hole. Calculate the velocity of the dust particle in km/s.

27: In the Check Your Learning section of Example 27.1, you were told that several lines of hydrogen absorption in the visible spectrum have rest wavelengths of 410 nm, 434 nm, 486 nm, and 656 nm. In a spectrum of a distant galaxy, these same lines are observed to have wavelengths of 492 nm, 521 nm, 583 nm, and 787 nm, respectively. The example demonstrated that z = 0.20 for the 410 nm line. Show that you will obtain the same redshift regardless of which absorption line you measure.

28: In the Check Your Learning section of Example 27.1the author commented that even at z = 0.2, there is already an 11% deviation between the relativistic and the classical solution. What is the percentage difference between the classical and relativistic results at z = 0.1? What is it for z = 0.5? What is it for z = 1?

29: The quasar that appears the brightest in our sky, 3C 273, is located at a distance of 2.4 billion light-years. The Sun would have to be viewed from a distance of 1300 light-years to have the same apparent magnitude as 3C 273. Using the inverse square law for light, estimate the luminosity of 3C 273 in solar units.


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