Manly Astrophysics | 2017 Jun 27
[img3="Schematic graphic of quasar twinkling. Credit: M. Walker (artwork), CSIRO (photo)"]http://www.manlyastrophysics.org/Images ... llSize.jpg[/img3][hr][/hr]Gas filaments surrounding stars like the strands of a pompom may be the answer to a 30-year old mystery: why quasars twinkle. ...
Walker's team was studying quasars – powerful, distant galaxies – when they saw one called PKS 1322–110 start to dim and brighten wildly at radio wavelengths over just a few hours.
"This quasar was twinkling violently," Walker said.
Quasar radio twinkling was recognized in the 1980s. Most often it is gentle – small, slow changes in radio brightness. Violent twinkling is rare and unpredictable.
Stars in the night sky twinkle when currents of air in our atmosphere focus and defocus their light. In the same way, quasars twinkle when streams of warm gas in interstellar space focus and defocus their radio signals.
But until now it was a mystery what those streams were and where they lay.
The first sign that stars are involved came when the team prepared to look at their twinkling quasar, PKS 1322–110, with one of the 10-m Keck optical telescopes in Hawai'i.
"At that point we realised this quasar is very close on the sky to the hot star Spica," co-author Dr Vikram Ravi (Caltech) said.
Walker remembered that another violently twinkling quasar, J1819+3845, is close on the sky to the hot star Vega – something previously noted by other researchers. Two hot stars, two twinkling quasars: is this just a coincidence?
Further work suggested it's not.
Walker's team re-examined earlier data on J1819+3845 and another violent twinkler, PKS 1257–326. They found that this second quasar lies close on the sky to a hot star called Alhakim.
The chance of having both twinkling quasars near hot stars is one in ten million, the researchers calculated. ...
Extreme Radio-Wave Scattering Associated with Hot Stars - Mark Walker et al