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A Supermassive Black Hole Nourishes Baby Stars Far, Far Away

Supermassive black holes are mysterious entities that lurk greedily in the hearts of probably every major galaxy in the observable universe, where they lurk in sinister and voracious secrecy, waiting for their dinner to rush into their waiting maws. These falling buffets may consist of destroyed stars, disturbed gas clouds, or any other unfortunate celestial object that has been destroyed by the gravitational clutches of the large black hole. Once a doomed object has passed the fatal point of no return, called the event horizon, he can never return from this gravitational beast’s lair, and he is lost to the rest of the Universe forever. But, despite their bad reputation for being ruthlessly destructive, a supermassive black hole that haunts the heart of a galaxy far, far away has been shown to have nurturing character. This object has a maternal heart and assists in the birth of bright new stars located over a million light-years away. A light year is equal to 6 trillion miles.

The discovery of this Maternal Heart of Darkness, which successfully sparked star birth over a breathtaking distance – as well as across multiple galaxies – was made by astronomers with the help of NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes. If confirmed, the black hole would represent the widest range ever observed for such an object to behave as a nurturing stellar mother, triggering star birth. This Maternal Heart of Darkness actually enhanced star formation.

“This is the first time we’ve seen a single black hole stimulate star birth in more than one galaxy at once. It’s amazing to think that a galaxy’s black hole can have a say in it. about what is happening in other galaxies millions of billions of miles away,” commented Dr. Roberto Gilli in a November 26, 2019 Chandra Observatory press release. Dr. Gilli is from the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) in Bologna, Italy, and is the lead author of the study describing the discovery.

Said the crow, “Never again”

Supermassive black holes are greedy entities that weigh millions to billions of times more than the mass of our Sun. Our own Milky Way galaxy is home to such a gravitational beast, which resides in its secret heart. Our resident supermassive black hole is called Sagittarius A*and as supermassive beasts go, it’s relatively low-mass. Sagittarius A* (pronounced saj-a-star) weighs “merely” millions – as opposed to billions – of solar masses. The dark heart of our Milky Way is quiet now. She’s an aged beast, and she only wakes up occasionally to feast on an unfortunate celestial object that has strayed too close to where she expects it. Although he is mostly dormant, when the two Sagittarius A* and the Universe were young, it dined greedily, and shone brightly, like a quasar. Quasars are the bright ones accretion disks circling active supermassive black holes haunting the centers of galaxies.

Despite their misleading name, black holes are not just empty spaces. Indeed, they exist in several sizes. Besides the supermassive variety, there are stellar-mass black holes that form when an extremely massive star runs out of its necessary supply of nuclear fuel and violently explodes in a core-collapse (Type II) supernova. The gravitational collapse of a particularly massive star announces its natural “death”. When a doomed heavy star has no more nuclear fuel to burn, it has reached the end of the stellar road. Nuclear fusion within a star that is still “alive”, bubbling, burning, creates radiation pressure which is trying to push all the stellar material outward. In the meantime, the star’s own gravity tries to pull everything inward. This creates a delicate balance that maintains a bouncing star. Alas, when a giant, massive star runs out of fuel and contains a heavy iron-nickel core, it can no longer produce pressure. Gravity wins in the end. The star’s core collapses and it goes supernova. Where once there was a star, there is no longer a star.

Astronomers have also found compelling evidence for the existence of intermediate-mass black holes which weigh less than their supermassive relatives, but more than their stellar-mass “parents”. Smash enough mass into a small enough space and a black hole will form every time. Some scientists have proposed that these intermediate mass objects met and merged into the primeval cosmos. For this reason, it has been suggested that they served as the “seeds” that created the supermassive black holes that haunt the mysterious core of most, if not all, major galaxies, including ours.

The Milky Way’s resident supermassive black hole is no solitary gravitational beast. Sagittarius A* has lots of company. Indeed, theoretical studies indicate that a large population of stellar-mass black holes – possibly as many as 20,000 – could spark the fantastical light around our own Galaxy’s resident central black hole. A study published in 2018, based on data acquired from Chandra, suggests the existence of a treasure trove of stellar-mass black holes haunting the heart of our Milky Way.

Some current theories propose that supermassive black holes already existed in the ancient Universe. In this very ancient era, clouds of gas and doomed stars swirled, then descended into the waiting, greedy, gravitational claws of the hungry beast, Never again to return from the violently swirling maelstrom surrounding this bizarre entity. As the captured and doomed material swirled towards its inevitable demise, it formed a bright and violent storm of dazzling material around the black hole – its accretion disk (quasar). As this bright, fiery material grew hotter and hotter, it unleashed a raging radiation storm – especially as it moved closer and closer to the event horizon which is the point of no return.

In the 18th century, John Michell and Pierre-Simon Laplace proposed the possibility that there might actually exist in nature such insults to our evolved common sense on Earth as black holes. In 1915, Albert Einstein, in his General theory of relativity, predicted the existence of objects carrying gravitational fields so strong that anything unfortunate enough to wander too close to their attraction would be consumed. Nevertheless, this concept seemed so outrageous at the time that Einstein dismissed his own idea – even though his calculations claimed otherwise.

In 1916, physicist Karl Schwarzschild formulated the first modern solution for General relativity which described a black hole. However, its interpretation as an area of ​​Space-Time, from which absolutely nothing could escape once trapped, was not sufficiently understood until nearly half a century later. Until then, these gravitational beasts were only considered mathematical oddities. Finally, in the middle of the 20th century, theoretical physicists were able to demonstrate that these strange children of Mother Nature represent a generic prediction of General relativity.

A maternal black hole with a Midas twist

The feeder supermassive black hole resides at the center of a galaxy about 9.9 billion light-years from Earth. The galaxy is in the company of at least seven neighboring galaxies, according to observations conducted with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory and the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT).

By using the National Science Foundation (NSA) Jansky Very Large Array, astronomers had previously discovered the emission of radio waves from a jet of high-energy particles about a million light-years long. The jet can be traced back to the feeder supermassive black hole, which Chandra detected as a powerful X-ray source. The X-rays are created by hot gases swirling around the supermassive black hole. Dr. Gilli and his colleagues also spotted a diffuse cloud of X-ray emission circling one end of the radio jet. This X-ray emission probably originates from a huge bubble of gas heated by the dance performed by the energetic particles in the radio jet with the surrounding matter.

As the hot bubble expanded and invaded neighboring galaxies, it may have compressed the cold gas from those galactic neighbors. This would have given birth to fiery baby stars. All the galaxies involved reside at roughly the same distance – about 400,000 light-years – from the center of the expanding bubble. Scientists calculate that the stellar birth rate is two to five times that of typical galaxies with similar masses and distance from our planet.

“The story of King Midas is about his magic touch that can turn metal into gold. Here we have a case of a black hole that helped turn gas into stars, and its range is intergalactic,” commented the study co-author Dr. Marco Mignoli. November 26, 2019 Chandra press release. Dr. Mignoli is also from INAF.

Astronomers have observed many cases where a black hole influences its environment through “negative feedback”. This means that they frequently observed an ominous black hole hampering the formation of new stars. It can happen when the jets emitted by the black hole send so much energy into the hot gas of a galaxy – or a cluster of galaxies – that the gas cannot cool down enough to form a large number of babies. stars. While it may seem like it defies common sense, things need to cool down before a baby star can be born.

“Black holes have a well-deserved reputation for being powerful and deadly, but not always. This is a prime example that they sometimes challenge that stereotype and can instead be nurturing,” co-author Alessandro Peca commented in the Chandra press release. Peca, formerly of the INAFis currently a doctoral student at the University of Miami.

Astronomers used a total of six days of Chandra observation time spread over a period of five months.

“It was only because of this very deep observation that we saw the bubble of hot gas produced by the black hole. By targeting objects similar to this, we might discover that positive feedback is very common in the formation of groups and clusters of galaxies,” noted co-author Dr. Colin Norman in the Chandra press release. Dr. Norman is from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

An article describing these results has been published in the journal Astronomy and astrophysics.

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