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They discover a black hole that 'gives birth' to stars

Black holes are often portrayed as a “destructive monster” gobbling up stars and planets, but evidence from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope shows that a known black hole actually forms new stars. This black hole resides in the dwarf galaxy called Henize 2-10, located about 30 million light-years away from Earth in the southern constellation of Pyxis or the Compass.

Also known as ESO 495-21 and LEDA 24171, this galaxy is just 3,000 light-years across and harbors a rather special black hole at its center.

Where do all these stars come from?

If high-energy jets of extremely hot particles emanating from black holes at the core of galaxies prevent star formation, where do all these stars come from, astronomers wondered. Apparently, according to data collected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists have discovered that a cluster of galaxies called the Phoenix Cluster, about 5.8 billion light-years from Earth, is giving light stars at a “furious” pace. And here’s why: This black hole at the center of the galaxy appears to be much fainter than black holes in other clusters, and is precisely what allows stars to form. It has barely a million solar masses.

The opposite effect than in larger galaxies

“Ten years ago, when I was a graduate student thinking I would spend my career making stars, I looked at the Henize 2-10 data and everything changed. I knew from the beginning that something unusual and special was happening in Henize 2-10, and now Hubble has provided a very clear picture of the connection between the black hole and a neighboring star-forming region located 230 light-years from the black hole ,” explains Amy Reines, an astronomer at the eXtreme Gravity Institute at the University of Montana and co-author of the paper published in the journal Nature.

Because it is “so close”, the Hubble Space Telescope has been able to capture images and spectroscopic evidence of this black hole quite clearly and “the additional surprise was that , instead of suppressing star formation, the outflow was causing the birth of new stars, ” say the authors.

The Hubble images are illuminating: they show a flow of plasma (ionized gas) “like an umbilical cord” extending from the black hole . This ionized gas collides with another dense cloud of gas near the edge of the dwarf galaxy, causing the cloud to form star clusters.

“Hubble’s amazing resolution clearly shows a corkscrew-like pattern in gas velocities, which we can fit to the model of a precessing or wobbling outflow from a black hole. A supernova remnant would not have that pattern, so it is effectively our irrefutable proof that it is a black hole” , Reines clarifies.

Although this effect will not last forever, of course. There will come a time when the black hole temporarily stops “helping” star formation and does what we are used to seeing: stifling the birth of new stars.



Referencia: Z. Schutte & A.E. Reines. 2022. Black-hole-triggered star formation in the dwarf galaxy Henize 2-10. Nature 601, 329-333; doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-04215-6


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