Caelum – the chisel

December 31, 2017

Astronomy

Caelum is a constellation that was named in honor of the chisel one uses to chip away all of the stone which is hiding the artsy stuff one wants to reveal. It was introduced in the 1750’s by a guy named Nicolas Louis de Lacaille who was filling in blank spots on his sky maps and was desperate for names. He originally called it Caela Sculptoris, or the sculptor’s chisel.

There is an unusual object in Caelum called HE0450-2958. It is a quasar, possibly associated with an unusual galaxy located just down the cosmic street, a Seyfert galaxy, unusual already by definition. But this one is especially so. It’s a ULIRG, which means Ultra-Luminous InfraRed Galaxy. It’s putting out ridiculous amounts of infrared light. Most galaxies take a more balanced approach to radiating energy. It’s like that neighbor whose Christmas decorations have an oddly chosen color scheme, and also they have about a thousand times more lights than anyone else on the block.

HE0450-2958 is called the “naked quasar” because in spite of all the massive amounts of light a suspected host galaxy is probably cranking out, it is difficult to detect that galaxy. The quasar HE0450-2958 is so bright that it is like having a giant Frosty the Snowman on top of the house powered by so many halogen bulbs that no one can see the actual house. It’s just Frosty, hanging there in space, directly wired to the Grand Coulee Dam and visible from 3 billion lightyears away.

But wait, there’s more. There is a suspicious blob lurking nearby. Is the blob gaseous remnants of clouds that have been ripped apart by a rogue intergalactic supermassive blackhole, and then subsequently feeding back into that blackhole, with some of that subsequently blasted away, feeding the quasar? Maybe or maybe not, but the blob is for sure being ionized by its proximity to the quasar. There’s no doubt about that.

There might even be stars forming in the blob. Some measurements seem to indicate this. Some people think pressure from the quasar might be causing the blob to form stars. Other people think the blob is actually the host galaxy, which is disguising itself as a blob to hide the truth. We’re not sure exactly what the blob is so it’s hard to say how it would react to being threatened by the neighbors.

But wait, there’s more. In the time it took the light from the quasar to get to earth, and we were distracted by the blob, another possible host galaxy appears to have been mostly absorbed by a bigger nearby starburst galaxy, thus entering an intergalactic witness protection program.

The mystery of the naked quasar is still considered by many folks to be unsolved. The theories are complicated and confusing and there are still researchers investigating and publishing possibilities. There is no smoking gun. There’s just smoke. Then there’s the blob acting like a big mirror, so we have basically have smoke and mirrors.

Carpe Noctem

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