Quasars and galactic collisions: Stars, black holes and galaxies


Shining so brightly that they eclipse the ancient galaxies that contain them, quasars are distant objects powered by black holes a billion times as massive as our sun. These powerful dynamos have fascinated astronomers since their discovery half a century ago.

In the 1930s, Karl Jansky, a physicist with Bell Telephone Laboratories, discovered that the static interference on transatlantic phone lines was coming from the Milky Way. By the 1950s, astronomers were using radio telescopes to probe the heavens, and pairing their signals with visible examinations of the heavens.

Galactic collisions

Stars will be thrown out of the galaxy, others will be destroyed as they crash into the merging supermassive black holes. And the delicate spiral structure of both galaxies will be destroyed as they become a single, giant, elliptical galaxy. But as cataclysmic as this sounds, this sort of process is actually a natural part of galactic evolution.

Astronomers have know about this impending collision for some time. This is based on the direction and speed of our galaxy and Andromeda’s. But more importantly, when astronomers look out into the universe, they see galaxy collisions happening on a regular basis.