Artist’s impression of stars from supermassive black holes' outflows. (ESO/M. Kornmesser)
Supermassive black holes are typically seen as the destruction of stars. They either gobble them or heat up hydrogen gas so much that they can’t form anymore. Astronomers have long theorized that it’s not always the case- that they can actually help form new stars instead. And now, for the first time, that theory is no more.
A group of European astronomers has observed the birth of stars in the winds produced by a supermassive black hole
using the Very Large Telescope in northern Chile. It is located inside a galaxy that is currently colliding with another galaxy, a system collectively known as IRAS F23128-5919.
“Astronomers have thought for a while that conditions within these outflows could be right for star formation, but no one has seen it actually happening as it’s a very difficult observation. Our results are exciting because they show unambiguously that stars are being created inside these outflows,” said the lead researcher, Roberto Maiolino of the University of Cambridge.
Fast-moving powerful winds could lead to a sudden compression of gas that can form a star, even in environments like black hole winds. “The stars that form in the wind close to the galaxy center might slow down and even start heading back inwards, but the stars that form further out in the flow experience less deceleration and can even fly off out of the galaxy altogether,” co-author Helen Russell added.
The population of these stars, though, is very young (just a few tens of millions of years old) and the initial results suggest that they are brighter and hotter than stars formed in less dangerous environments. “If star formation is really occurring in most galactic outflows, as some theories predict, then this would provide a completely new scenario for our understanding of galaxy evolution,” Maiolino concluded.
Again, the universe has left us in awe, pushing all our limits in understanding the complexity of everything especially those literally outside our horizon.