Black hole shock: Supermassive monsters are 'turboboosting' galaxies to birth new stars

It now appears black holes actually encourage rather than annihilate stars inside a galaxy cluster. Supermassive black holes typically pump out energy via jets, keeping nearby areas too warm to condense and form stars.

Scientists have now discovered a cluster of galaxies, called the Phoenix cluster, where stars form at a furious rate because of a supermassive black hole’s influence.

This stellar turboboost is thought to be linked to less powerful jets from a central black hole that do not warm the temperature as much.

The area instead loses energy as it glows in X-rays.

The gas cools to where it can form large numbers of stars at a breathtaking rate.

Where our Milky Way forms one star per year on average, newborn stars are created in this cool gas at a rate of about 500 solar masses per year in the Phoenix cluster.

Scientists solved this mystery with the combined power of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and New Mexico’s Very Large Array (VLA) radio observatory.

The VLA radio data reveals jets blasting out from the vicinity of the central black hole.

These jets inflated bubbles in the hot gas that are detected in X-rays by Chandra.

Galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the cosmos that are held together by gravity, consisting of hundreds or thousands of galaxies embedded in hot gas, as well as the elusive dark matter.

The largest supermassive black holes known are in galaxies at the centres of these clusters.

Astronomers have searched for galaxy clusters containing rich nurseries of stars in their central galaxies for decades.

Instead, they discovered powerful, supermassive black holes releasing energy through jets of high-energy particles and keeping the gas too warm to form many stars.

Now, scientists have evidence for a galaxy cluster where stars are forming at a unexpectedly swift rates, apparently linked to a less effective black hole in its centre.

In this so-far unique cluster, the jets from the central black hole instead appear to be assisting star formation.

Professor Michael McDonald, astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the study, said: “This is a phenomenon that astronomers had been trying to find for a long time.

“This cluster demonstrates that, in some instances, the energetic output from a black hole can actually enhance cooling, leading to dramatic consequences.”

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