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News Release 501 of 951

January 9, 2003 12:19 PM (EST)

News Release Number: STScI-2003-03

Hubble Probes the Heart of a Nearby Quasar

An American Astronomical Society Meeting Release

January 9, 2003: The Hubble Space Telescope's new Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) has provided the clearest view yet in visible light of the nearby quasar, 3C 273 [image at right]. Using the new camera's coronagraph to block the light from the brilliant central quasar, astronomers discovered that the quasar's host galaxy is significantly more complex than had been suggested in previous observations. Features in the surrounding galaxy that are normally drowned out by the quasar's glow now show up clearly. The ACS reveals a spiral plume wound around the quasar and a red dust lane. Material in the form of a clump and a blue arc are shown in the path of a jet that was blasted from the quasar.

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Q & A: Understanding the Discovery

  1. 1. What is the difference between the two pictures?

  2. The power of the ACS coronagraph is demonstrated in the picture at right. The Hubble image on the left, taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, shows the brilliant quasar but little else. The diffraction spikes demonstrate the quasar is truly a point source of light (like a star) because the black hole's "central engine" is so compact. The quasar's home galaxy pops into view only when the ACS blocks the bright object's blinding light. Astronomers believe that quasars, short for quasi-stellar objects, are powered by supermassive black holes.

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Credit for WFPC2 image: NASA and J. Bahcall (IAS)

Credit for ACS image: NASA, A. Martel (JHU), H. Ford (JHU), M. Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), G. Illingworth (UCO/Lick Observatory), the ACS Science Team and ESA