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Quasar Observed Quickly Losing Light While its Black Hole Lives On


For a quasar, 10 years is a fairly quick timeline for disappearance and a team of astronomers are examining one such instance.

"This is the first time we've seen a quasar shut off this dramatically, this quickly," study lead author Jessie Runnoe, a postdoctoral scholar at Pennsylvania State University, said in a press release. "Essentially, it has run out of food, at least for the moment.

"We were fortunate to catch it both before and after."

Published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the new study detailed how a supermassive black hole appeared to live on even after its central quasar, dubbed SDSS J1011+5442, vanished swiftly.

"We are used to thinking of the sky as unchanging," study co-author Scott Anderson, an astronomy professor at the University of Washington, said in another press release. "The SDSS gives us a great opportunity to see that change as it happens."

Using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), the researchers observed the quasar drastically lose its light after it ceased to eat up all the gas surrounding it in a matter of years.

"The change in the emission from the gas over a dozen years was stunning," study co-author Michael Eracleous, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, said in the release. "The luminosity of the gas declined by over a factor of 50; if we had taken our first observations of the quasar today, we would view it as a typical galaxy with no suggestion that it hosted a supermassive black hole."

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