Quasars, Blazars, and Gamma Rays

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Science  18 Sep 1992:
Vol. 257, Issue 5077, pp. 1642-1647
DOI: 10.1126/science.257.5077.1642


Before the launch of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO), the only source of >100-megaelectron volt (MeV) gamma radiation known outside our galaxy was the quasar 3C 273. After less than a year of observing, 13 other extragalactic sources have been discovered with the Energetic Gamma Ray Experiment Telescope (EGRET) on CGRO, and it is expected that many more will be found before the full sky survey is complete. All 14 sources show evidence of blazar properties at other wavelengths; these properties include high optical polarization, extreme optical variability, flat-spectrum radio emission associated with a compact core, and apparent superluminal motion. Such properties are thought to be produced by those few, rare extragalactic radio galaxies and quasars that are favorably aligned to permit us to look almost directly down a relativistically outflowing jet of matter expelled from a supermassive black hole. Although the origin of the gamma rays from radio jets is a subject of much controversy, the gamma-ray window probed by CGRO is providing a wealth of knowledge about the central engines of active galactic nuclei and the most energetic processes occurring in nature.