Radioastron observations of the quasar 3C 273: A challenge to the brightness temperature limit

Y. Y. Kovalev, N. S. Kardashev, K. I. Kellermann, A. P. Lobanov, M. D. Johnson, L. I. Gurvits, P. A. Voitsik, J. A. Zensus, J. M. Anderson, U. Bach, D. L. Jauncey, F. Ghigo, T. Ghosh, A. Kraus, Yu A. Kovalev, M. M. Lisakov, L. Yu Petrov, J. D. Romney, C. J. Salter, K. V. Sokolovsky

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49 Citations (Scopus)


Inverse Compton cooling limits the brightness temperature of the radiating plasma to a maximum of 1011.5 K. Relativistic boosting can increase its observed value, but apparent brightness temperatures much in excess of 1013 K are inaccessible using ground-based very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) at any wavelength. We present observations of the quasar 3C 273, made with the space VLBI mission RadioAstron on baselines up to 171,000 km, which directly reveal the presence of angular structure as small as 26 μas (2.7 light months) and brightness temperature in excess of 1013 K. These measurements challenge our understanding of the non-thermal continuum emission in the vicinity of supermassive black holes and require a much higher Doppler factor than what is determined from jet apparent kinematics.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL9
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2016


  • galaxies: active
  • galaxies: jets
  • quasars: individual (3C273)
  • radio continuum: galaxies
  • techniques: interferometric


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