Supermassive Black Hole Spotted Blowing Matter Into The Universe

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Black hole wind
Black hole wind

Astronomers have detected a Black Hole in a distance galaxy blowing galactic gas away from its own galaxy.

The Supermassive Black Hole is an object with a mass up to 16 million times that of our Sun. It’s about 2.6 billion light-years away from Earth.

This is the first time scientists have seen a black hole performing such action. Astronomers studying the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy IRAS F11119+3257 have found proof that the winds blowing from the black hole are sweeping away the host galaxy’s reservoir of raw star-building material.

This finding was made by using ESA’s Herschel space observatory, together with the Suzaku X-ray astronomy satellite. Combining these data, the astronomers could detect the winds driven by the central black hole in X-rays, and their global effect, pushing the galactic gas away, at infrared wavelengths.

Photo: Artist’s impression shows how the black hole accretes the surrounding matter through a disc (orange). Part of the accreted material is pushed away in a wind (blue), which in turn powers a large-scale galactic outflow of molecular gas (red).

European Space Agency reports:

Found at the hearts of most galaxies, supermassive black holes are extremely dense and compact objects with masses between millions and billions of times that of our Sun.

Many are relatively passive, like the one sitting at the centre of our Milky Way. However, some of them are devouring their surroundings with a great appetite.

These active black holes not only feed on nearby gas but also expel some of it as powerful winds and jets.

Astronomers have long suspected these outflows to be responsible for draining galaxies of their interstellar gas, in particular the gas molecules from which stars are born.

This could eventually affect a galaxy’s star-forming activity, slowing it down or possibly quenching it entirely.

“This is the first time that we have seen a supermassive black hole in action, blowing away the galaxy’s reservoir of star-making gas,” explains Francesco Tombesi from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland, USA, who led the research published this week in Nature.

Combining infrared observations from ESA’s Herschel space observatory with new data from the Japanese/US Suzaku X-ray satellite, the astronomers detected the winds close to the Black-hole_wind_sweeping_away_galactic_gas_largecentral black hole as well as their global effect in pushing galactic gas away in a galaxy known as IRAS F11119+3257.

The winds start small and fast, gusting at about 25% the speed of light near the black hole and blowing away about the equivalent of one solar mass of gas every year.

As they progress outwards, the winds slow but sweep up an additional few hundred solar masses of gas molecules per year and push it out of the galaxy.

This is the first solid proof that black-hole winds are stripping their host galaxies of gas by driving large-scale outflows.

The new finding supports the view that black holes might ultimately stop stars forming in their host galaxies.

“Herschel has already revolutionised our understanding of how stars are born. This new result is now helping us understand why and how star formation in some galaxies can be globally affected and even switched off entirely,” says Göran Pilbratt, Herschel Project Scientist at ESA.

“The culprit of this cosmic ‘whodunnit’ has been found. As many suspected, a central black hole can power large-scale gas outflows, quenching the formation of stars.”

Galactic Merger hosting a supermassive black hole

The galaxy IRAS F11119+3257, showing faint features that may be tidal debris, a sign that this object is undergoing a galactic merger. The background is an image from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, while the inset is a red-filter image from the University of Hawaii’s 2.2 m-diameter telescope.

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