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Physics LibreTexts

27: Active Galaxies, Quasars, and Supermassive Black Holes

During the first half of the twentieth century, astronomers viewed the universe of galaxies as a mostly peaceful place. They assumed that galaxies formed billions of years ago and then evolved slowly as the populations of stars within them formed, aged, and died. That placid picture completely changed in the last few decades of the twentieth century. Today, astronomers can see that the universe is often shaped by violent events, including cataclysmic explosions of supernovae, collisions of whole galaxies, and the tremendous outpouring of energy as matter interacts in the environment surrounding very massive black holes. The key event that began to change our view of the universe was the discovery of a new class of objects: quasars.

Thumbmnails: The deepest picture of the sky in visible light (left) shows huge numbers of galaxies in a tiny patch of sky, only 1/100 the area of the full Moon (credit modification of work by NASA, ESA, H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and Z. Levay (STScI)).