Story at a glance
- NASA discovered a black hole was contributing to star formation through new evidence captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.
- That contradicts previous assumptions of black holes, which are known to tear stars apart and consume anything that comes too close.
- NASA says the black hole in dwarf galaxy Henize 2-10 is responsible for the star formation.
Black holes are known as “monsters of the universe,” capable of tearing stars apart and consuming anything that gets too close. New images captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, however, have found the opposite to be the case in one instance, with a black hole actually fostering star formation.
Hubble captured evidence of a black hole contributing to the firestorm of new star formation, located in the dwarf galaxy Henize 2-10 about 30 million light-years away, according to a press release published by NASA this week.
NASA says there’s clear evidence of gas stretching from the black hole to a bright star birth region, similar to an umbilical cord, triggering an already dense cloud into forming clusters of stars. Hubble’s spectroscopy shows that the outflow was moving about 1 million miles per hour, slamming into dense gas and letting it sputter out.
Hubble calculated a newborn star cluster dotting the path of the outflow’s spread.
“Hubble’s amazing resolution clearly shows a corkscrew-like pattern in the velocities of the gas, 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, and so it is effectively our smoking-gun proof that this is a black hole,” said Amy Reines, principal investigator of the new Hubble observations.
NASA says the black hole in Henize 2-10 is around 1 million solar masses, whereas in larger galaxies, black holes can be more than 1 billion times the sun’s mass. The more massive a host galaxy is, the more massive the central black hole.
Astronomers believe because Henize 2-10’s black hole is less-massive, it has a gentler outflow and the gas produced was compressed just enough to bring on new star formation. In larger galaxies, materials that fall toward the black hole are sucked away by surrounding magnetic fields and form blazing jets of plasma that move at the speed of light. Any gas clouds that are caught in those jets’ path would become heated far beyond their ability to cool back down and form into stars.
Dwarf galaxies like Henize 2-10 offer astronomers promising potential clues to understanding the origin of black holes, because they have remained small over cosmic time rather than undergoing growth and mergers of large galaxies like the Milky Way.
“The era of the first black holes is not something that we have been able to see, so it really has become the big question: where did they come from? Dwarf galaxies may retain some memory of the black hole seeding scenario that has otherwise been lost to time and space,” said Reines.
The Hubble telescope is one of NASA’s longest standing missions, launched in 1990. It’s been visited by astronomers four times to make repairs and add new instruments. It will soon be succeeded by the James Webb space telescope, which is currently undergoing adjustments and alignments before it can begin documenting images for the public.
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