Black holes blast starmaking material right out of galaxy

ESA/ATG medialab

Black holes blast starmaking material right out of galaxy

Think of it as solar wind on steroids. Powerful gales from supermassive black holes in the center of galaxies can blast gas and other raw materials right out of the galaxy, robbing it of the raw materials needed to make new stars, a new study suggests. Previously, astronomers have used x-ray telescopes to observe strong winds very near the massive black holes at galactic centers (artist’s concept, inset) and infrared wavelengths to detect the vast outflows of cool gas (bluish haze in artist’s concept, main image) from such galaxies as a whole, but they’ve never done so in the same galaxy. So the link between the two phenomena was supported only by astrophysical models. Now, for the first time, a team has actually seen both occurrences in a mass of stars—a galaxy dubbed IRAS F11119+3257, which formed from the collision of two smaller galaxies. Its central black hole is as massive as 16 million suns, and the region of space surrounding it shines with the strength of 1 trillion suns—energy derived, in part, from intense frictional heating within the disk of gas being sucked into the maw. Long-term observations of IRAS F11119+3257 suggest that winds near its central black hole blow outward at about 25% the speed of light, the researchers report today in Nature. Close to the galaxy’s center, the winds blast away only one solar mass worth of gas each year, the researchers say. But farther out from the center, the winds push away and remove about 800 solar masses of gas each year. Although in the short term strong stellar winds through gas clouds can instigate star formation, in this case the gas blown out of the galaxy’s inner regions will eventually strip the galaxy of the ingredients for future star growth. The new findings should help astronomers refine their models of how galaxies evolve, the researchers say.