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Message in a bottle:  Quasar J1144

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“…exuding 500 trillion times the brightness of our sun, with a spiraling disc diameter of seven light years”

A Column by Frederick Sinclair, photo courtesy of NASA

While listening to a PBR radio broadcast this week, on route to the Alfred post office, the talk show host revealed how astronomers at the European Southern Observatory had recently discovered what is to date the most luminous object in the universe. The super powerful optical telescope, outfitted with the latest spectral analyzer, was directed at what was previously thought to be a faint star. However, an image of what is known as a quasar emerged.  Originally in the early 1950s, such phenomena were dubbed Quasi-Stellar Radio Sources (QUASAR), since then they have been more accurately characterized as a black hole surrounded by a super heated mass , or accretion disk.  Stars, planets and all forms of cosmic matter, spiral at lightning speed into the black hole, becoming super heated and glowing brightly as they succumb to the inescapable gravitational pull. What had appeared to be a star like point of light, revealed itself to actually be a massive quasar located 12 billion light years away. It is exuding 500 trillion times the brightness of our sun, with a spiraling disc diameter of 7 light years. The black hole is estimated to be consuming an equivalent of the mass of our sun which is 330,000 earths each day. As I pulled into the post office parking lot I sat for a moment stunned by the sheer distance, size and characteristics of Quasar J1144. (QJ)   

Returning home, I immediately headed for my desktop computer, firing up search engines to gain perspective on some of the ‘astronomical’ facts revealed over the radio. I was reminded that the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second and in one year travels about 6 trillion miles. QJ is 12 billion light years distant. That is 12 billion times 6 trillion miles away. The temperature of the QJ accretion disc is estimated at 10,000 degrees C. which is double the surface temperature of our sun. The light we are now seeing from QJ is more than twice the age of our sun. So what then is this phenomena at the core of QJ ? A black hole is a cosmic event resulting in gravitational pull so strong that even light cannot escape it. Present day astrophysics tells us that black holes at the core of quasars are stars which have burned out and are imploding into themselves. This occurs to the point that atoms combine to form an extremely dense condition that exerts huge gravitational force. There is so much momentum in this fusion that the atomic structure of the mass continues to condense inward toward a single point, considered singularity. According to Einstein, time and space is so distorted by the forces within a black hole that the laws of physics as we know them don’t apply.

  I sat for several moments with this information and up to the point of this composition continue to contemplate the sheer majesty of Quasar J1144.  From  within these unfamiliar scales of time/space I feel the enormity and the minute, united in a message forwarded us from a time before mankind even existed. A glimpse at creation, such as this, bears wisdom, beauty and strength for humanity. We only need to open ourselves to the magic and grace of receiving the proverbial ‘message in a bottle’.   

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