Black holes usually tend to destroy stars. But this may be the first time we hear that a black hole nurtures baby stars instead of eating them.
Researchers have just witnessed a black hole that is helping to nurture and spark the birth of baby stars across multiple galaxies. Yep, the black hole is impacting stars in more than one million light-years from its origin.
For this, astronomers used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and some other telescopes, but the discovery still needs to be confirmed.
“This is the first time we’ve seen a single black hole boost star birth in more than one galaxy at a time,” said Roberto Gilli of the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) in Bologna, Italy, lead author of the study describing the discovery. “It’s amazing to think one galaxy’s black hole can have a say in what happens in other galaxies millions of trillions of miles away.”
The supermassive black hole lies at the center of a galaxy 9.9 billion light-years away from us. There are at least seven galactic neighbors around there.
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Black holes devour everything caught within their gravitational pull. But they can also release highly energized jets of material that spew particles at the speed of light.
Previously, scientists using the National Science Foundation’s Karl Jansky Very Large Array detected radio-wave emission from a jet of high-energy particles stretched for a million light-years. Follow-up observations with Chandra revealed the black hole to be the source of the jet. Chandra can detect the X-rays created by hot gas that swirls around black holes.
Chandra also detected a diffuse cloud of X-ray emission surrounding one end of the radio jet. Scientists think this emission is most likely coming from a gigantic bubble of hot gas heated by particles in the jet when they interacted with the surrounding matter.
So, the researchers determined that the gigantic gas bubble expanded and actually moved across four of the neighboring galaxies. And that may have created a shock wave that compressed cool gas in the galaxies, causing stars to form. All four galaxies are about 400,000 light-years from the center of the bubble. The researchers believe star formation in these galaxies is two to five times higher than other similar galaxies.
“The story of King Midas talks of his magic touch that can turn metal into gold,” said Marco Mignoli, study co-author at the National Institute of Astrophysics. “Here we have a case of a black hole that helped turn gas into stars, and its reach is intergalactic.”
“Black holes have a well-earned reputation for being powerful and deadly, but not always,” said co-author Alessandro Peca, formerly at INAF in Bologna and now a Ph.D. student at the University of Miami. “This is a prime example that they sometimes defy that stereotype and can be nurturing instead.”
Their findings published this week in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.