The ACS (Advanced Camera for Surveys) camera installed on the Hubble Space Telescope has shown this image of quasar 3C 273, located about 3 billion light-years in Virgo. The coronagraph was used to block the bright light emitted from the central area, thus revealing the remarkable complexity of the galaxy in which it is housed.
The features of the galaxies that house a quasar are obscured by the very powerful radiation emitted from the nucleus. However, on this occasion they have been clearly observed. The ACS has managed to unveil the spiral plume that surrounds the quasar, a reddish strip of dust and several clusters of matter, as well as a bluish arc along the trajectory of the jet thrown from the quasar, details never seen clearly before.
The image on the left, taken by WFPC2 (Wide Field Planetary Camera 2), shows the glow of the quasar, but little else. Diffraction peaks show that it is a point source of light, such as a star, due to the compact central ingenuity that feeds the galaxy: a black hole. Once the intense central light has been blocked, the host galaxy appears before our eyes thanks to the tremendous power of the coronograph.
It is commonly accepted that quasars are colossal supermassive black holes that assimilate material from the whirlwind of dust and gas that swirls around them. The ACS will facilitate the task of understanding what kind of galactic activity feeds a supermassive black hole so that the galaxy "ignites" causing a quasar.
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