I have read that supernovae are the main producers of elements heavier than oxygen. I just wonder whether quasars, which have been around a long time just like supernovae have, could have had a comparable material effect on the universe. With all the energy they produce, you'd think they would somehow affect material composition. If not heavy elements, maybe they are the creators of dark matter?


2 Answers 2


The reason supernovae enrich the interstellar medium with heavy elements is that they synthesise those elements in the core of the star where the temperature and pressure are extreme, then explode and scatter those elements into the surrounding space. So the supernovae do two things:

  1. achieve enormous temperatures and pressures

  2. explode

By contrast quasars are competely different. Quasars are (probably) supermassive black holes and the radiation they produce is from matter heated as it falls toward the event horizon. This matter forms an accretion disk around the quasar but the density and temperature are far lower than in a massive star. I'm not sure if nucleosynthesis occurs at all in an accretion disk, but if it does only the lighter nuclei like helium are likely to be formed.

So the accretion disk cannot be a source of heavy elements. What goes on inside the black hole itself is another matter, but then unlike supernovae black holes don't explode so anything that falls into them never gets out. The end result is that quasars are not a source of elements heavier than oxygen.

  • $\begingroup$ This is not very specific. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 23:55
  • $\begingroup$ @RichardPeterson: it's hard to know what more specific information you want. Perhaps, having read what I've written, you could edit your question to explain what you're after or even post a new question. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 5:12
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, specific was not the specific word I should have used!:-) Your answer is valuable for people who have just started learning about supernova & quasars. But I had that information.What I'd like is nitty-gritty-for example, description of theory and observation studies of the intense beam that a quasar emits.I'm not sure nothing heavier than Oxy is made, at least in the beam and close to the source, which has lots of power and could have alot of unknown physics.For 1, we could speculate the beam hastens creation of large stars, which go supernova and make heavy elements.Also, dark matter? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ Gosh, I got lucky in my speculation yesterday-check out today's science headlines on quasar jets creating large stars! I swear I didn't know ahead of time. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 1:17
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    $\begingroup$ @RichardPeterson: Assuming you're referring to the paper by Maiolino et al note that no new matter is being created. The black hole sucks existing matter from the accretion disk and spits it out as the jets. Matter in the jets is collapsing to form new stars. So the black hole is indeed triggering the formation of stars, but it isn't creating the matter from which the stars are made. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 29, 2017 at 5:09

John Rennie's answer covers a lot of points that I won't repeat, but as was pointed out in the comments it doesn't mention the black hole jets. This is a little ways off my expertise, but my understanding is that the jets are a source of relativistic particles, i.e. cosmic rays (though not the only source, I think). Cosmic rays hitting other material, or colliding with each other, can trigger fission and fusion reactions via a process called cosmic ray spallation. This produces mostly light elements, but apparently small amounts of stuff as heavy as $^{127}_{~~53}{\rm I}$ (!) can be produced.


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