You’ll Never Guess What a Supermassive Black Hole’s Favorite Food Is
Researchers are beginning to understand the relationship between black holes and galaxies.
Cosmic jellyfish might sound like the name of a really bad cover band, but in reality, these are galaxies whose tentacles of stars, gases, and cosmic dust stream forth from their central, galactic discs. They certainly aren’t alone. Curiosities and strange wonders abound in our vast, prodigious universe. Both professional and amateur astronomers alike have hollered “Eureka!” at such things as voorwerps, magnetars, blitzars, and “green peas.”
What else is interesting about jellyfish galaxies? Funny you should ask. The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has recently discovered that they fuel supermassive black holes. These enormous whirling vortexes each contain an “active galactic nucleus (AGN).” The AGN is the ultra-bright region at the center of a galaxy.
Although supermassive black holes inhabit the center of almost all galaxies, few are active. Exactly why has been a big question for astronomers. Another question is how galaxies accrete or gain matter.
Artist's rendition of a supermassive black hole. By ESO, via Wikimedia Commons.
Astronomers at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile recently found out how AGNs accrete. Their report was published in the journal Nature. By using their MUSE (Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer) instrument, part of the Very Large Telescope (VLT), the team found that a supermassive black hole sits at the heart of each jellyfish galaxy.
Newborn stars produce tentacles. Some of the gases are fed back into the galaxy’s center, causing its supermassive black hole to glow and shine in a way that few others do. To conduct the study, researchers observed nearby jellyfish galaxies, some with tentacles tens of thousands of light-years long.
The project was led by Bianca Poggianti of the INAF-Astronomical Observatory in Italy. She and colleagues discovered that these celestial appendages are formed through what’s known as ram pressure stripping. Gravity pulls galaxies close together at high speed, forming clusters. The intensity of this force demands a close proximity, which in turn causes a buildup of hot gases.
The gases soon become dense. The pressure builds and after awhile, it becomes too great. Once it reaches critical mass, starbursts go off within the galaxy’s core, sending gas-filled jets spewing out. From our vantage point, these jets look like tentacles. So it seems like some of these gases in the tentacles make their way back to the AGN, which how galaxies accrete useful material.
“This strong link between ram pressure stripping and active black holes was not predicted and has never been reported before,” Dr. Poggianti said. “It seems that the central black hole is being fed because some of the gas, rather than being removed, reaches the galaxy center.”
Poggianti and her team are currently studying many more such galaxies. They’ll look at 114 out of the 400 known cosmic jellyfish out there.
Example of a jellyfish galaxy. ESO.
Dr. Poggianti concludes the report by saying,
This survey, when completed, will reveal how many, and which, gas-rich galaxies entering clusters go through a period of increased activity at their cores. A long-standing puzzle in astronomy has been to understand how galaxies form and change in our expanding and evolving Universe. Jellyfish galaxies are a key to understanding galaxy evolution as they are galaxies caught in the middle of a dramatic transformation.
To see more about the ESO’s discovery, click here:
Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."
- Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
- Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
- Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
It marks a major shift in the government's battle against the opioid crisis.
- The nation's sixth-largest drug distributor is facing criminal charges related to failing to report suspicious drug orders, among other things.
- It marks the first time a drug company has faced criminal charges for distributing opioids.
- Since 1997, nearly 222,000 Americans have died from prescription opioids, partly thanks to unethical doctors who abuse the system.
A new study shows that some men's reaction to sex is not what you'd expect, resulting in a condition previously observed in women.
The real Game of Thrones might be who best leverages the hit HBO show to shape political narratives.
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren argues that Game of Thrones is primarily about women in her review of the wildly popular HBO show.
- Warren also touches on other parallels between the show and our modern world, such as inequality, political favoritism of the elite, and the dire impact of different leadership styles on the lives of the people.
- Her review serves as another example of using Game of Thrones as a political analogy and a tool for framing political narratives.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.