Researchers have spotted not one but six previously quiet galaxies suddenly transforming into voracious quasars — a transition that could force astronomers to revisit what they thought they knew about one of the brightest, most energetic types of objects in the universe.
“Theory suggests that a quasar should take thousands of years to turn on,” researcher Suvi Gezari of the University of Maryland said in a press release, “but these observations suggest that it can happen very quickly. It tells us that the theory is all wrong.”
According to the researchers’ paper, which was recently published in The Astrophysical Journal, the team made the discovery while looking at data gathered by the Zwicky Transient Facility during its first nine months surveying the sky.
During that short period of time, the survey caught six low-ionization nuclear emission-line region (LINER) galaxies — a common, mildly active type of galaxy — transforming into bright, energetic quasars.
Follow-up observations with the Discovery Channel Telescope provided the researchers with more information about the six LINER galaxies’ transformations. Now, they’re trying to use what they’ve learned to figure out why the transitions happened so suddenly and dramatically.
“It will take some work to understand what can disrupt a galaxy’s accretion structure and cause these changes on such short order,” researcher Sara Frederick said in the press release. “The forces at play must be very extreme and very dramatic.”
READ MORE: Astronomers watch six galaxies suddenly fire up into quasars [New Atlas]
More on quasars: Newly Spotted Quasar Is 600 Trillion Times Brighter Than the Sun