How to Spot a Quasar with Your Backyard Telescope
Quasars are extremely distant from us, with the closest quasar detected at 2.44 billion light years away from Earth. But amazingly enough, there are a few that you can see with your own backyard telescope, simply because they are so bright. The ones that are detectable with an average telescope, for example, are trillions of times brighter than our Sun.
Galaxy NGC 5792 and 14 identified surrounding quasars:
[Credit: Rolf Wahl Olsen]
First detected as radio sources in the 1950's, quasars' very existence was controversial until the 1980's. But over the last few decades, the scientific community has come to a near-consensus that they are the luminous, compact regions in the center of galaxies surrounding supermassive black holes. They are constantly emitting energy in the form of light and radio waves as a result of material accretion in supermassive black holes. Light can't escape the black holes, so the energy is generated by gravitational stresses and huge amounts of friction on the material as it accrues inside the black hole.
In order to detect this early universe phenomenon, you'll need to look through your telescope in extremely dark conditions, and your equipment needs to have an aperture of at least 20 centimeters. You'll also need a finder chart with stars plotted at at least +14th magnitude, such as the ones provided by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. You'll want to look for a particularly bright quasar, such as one of the following from a selected list of quasars brighter than +14th magnitude:
Here is a more complete list of four dozen of the closest and brightest quasars.
Then, once you've plotted the quasar's location using your star chart, it may take a while to find it, since they often just look like stars. Patience is key, but it's worth it!