An international team led by Francesco Tombesi at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., now has identified a new type of black-hole-driven outflow that appears to be both powerful enough and common enough to explain this link.
The supermassive black holes in active galaxies can produce narrow particle jets (orange) and wider streams of gas (blue-gray) known as ultra-fast outflows, which are powerful enough to regulate both star formation in the wider galaxy and the growth of the black hole. Inset: A close-up of the black hole and its accretion disk. (Artist concept credit: ESA/AOES Medialab)
Most big galaxies contain a central black hole weighing millions of times the sun's mass, but galaxies hosting more massive black holes also possess bulges that contain, on average, faster-moving stars. This link suggested some sort of feedback mechanism between a galaxy's black hole and its star-formation processes. Yet there was no adequate explanation for how a monster black hole's activity, which strongly affects a region several times larger than our solar system, could influence a galaxy's bulge, which encompasses regions roughly a million times larger.
"This was a real conundrum. Everything was pointing to supermassive black holes as somehow driving this connection, but only now are we beginning to understand how they do it," Tombesi said.
Active black holes acquire their power by gradually accreting -- or "feeding" on -- million-degree gas stored in a vast surrounding disk. This hot disk lies within a corona of energetic particles, and while both are strong X-ray sources, this emission cannot account for galaxy-wide properties. Near the inner edge of the disk, a fraction of the matter orbiting a black hole often is redirected into an outward particle jet. Although these jets can hurl matter at half the speed of light, computer simulations show that they remain narrow and deposit most of their energy far beyond the galaxy's star-forming regions.
Astronomers suspected they were missing something. Over the last decade, evidence for a new type of black-hole-driven outflow has emerged. At the centers of some active galaxies, X-ray observations at wavelengths corresponding to those of fluorescent iron show that this radiation is being absorbed. This means that clouds of cooler gas must lie in front of the X-ray source. What's more, these absorbed spectral lines are displaced from their normal positions to shorter wavelengths -- that is, blueshifted, which indicates that the clouds are moving toward us.
In two previously published studies, Tombesi and his colleagues showed that these clouds represented a distinct type of outflow. In the latest study, which appears in the Feb. 27 issue of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the researchers targeted 42 nearby active galaxies using the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellite to hone in on the location and properties of these so-called "ultra-fast outflows" -- or UFOs, for short. The galaxies, which were selected from the All-Sky Slew Survey Catalog produced by NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer satellite, were all located less than 1.3 billion light-years away.
The outflows turned up in 40 percent of the sample, which suggests that they're common features of black-hole-powered galaxies. On average, the distance between the clouds and the central black hole is less than one-tenth of a light-year. Their average velocity is about 14 percent the speed of light, or about 94 million mph, and the team estimates that the amount of matter required to sustain the outflow is close to one solar mass per year -- comparable to the accretion rate of these black holes.
"Although slower than particle jets, UFOs possess much faster speeds than other types of galactic outflows, which makes them much more powerful," Tombesi explained.
"They have the potential to play a major role in transmitting feedback effects from a black hole into the galaxy at large."
By removing mass that would otherwise fall into a supermassive black hole, ultra-fast outflows may put the brakes on its growth. At the same time, UFOs may strip gas from star-forming regions in the galaxy's bulge, slowing or even shutting down star formation there by sweeping away the gas clouds that represent the raw material for new stars. Such a scenario would naturally explain the observed connection between an active galaxy's black hole and its bulge stars.
Tombesi and his team anticipate significant improvement in understanding the role of ultra-fast outflows with the launch of the Japan-led Astro-H X-ray telescope, currently scheduled for 2014. In the meantime, he intends to focus on determining the detailed physical mechanisms that give rise to UFOs, an important element in understanding the bigger picture of how active galaxies form, develop and grow.Francis Reddy
Francis Reddy | EurekAlert!
Further reports about: > Goddard Space Flight Center > Greenbelt > Holes > Monster > Outflows > Space > Tombesi > Ultra-Fast > X-ray microscopy > X-ray source > active galaxies > black hole > black populations > computer simulation > galaxies > massive black hole > speed of light > star-forming region > supermassive black hole
Computer model predicts how fracturing metallic glass releases energy at the atomic level
20.07.2018 | American Institute of Physics
What happens when we heat the atomic lattice of a magnet all of a sudden?
18.07.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin
A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.
The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
20.07.2018 | Information Technology
20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences