New research suggests black holes could be preventing stars from forming in the "nearby universe."
Research looked at massive elliptical galaxies that contain cold gas but no stars, a Herschel Space Observatory news release reported. The team believes that while hot gas does cool in the region jets from nearby black holes disrupt the gas and prevent it from forming into stars.
Elliptical galaxies are mysterious because at one point they stopped producing stars and only harbor their oldest ones, which appear red and are appeared to have a low mass. In the past researchers believed these "red-and-dead galaxies" contained little to no cold gas.
"We looked at eight giant elliptical galaxies that nobody had looked at with Herschel before and we were delighted to find that, contrary to previous belief, six out of eight abound with cold gas," study leader Norbert Werner from Stanford University, said in the news release.
This is the first time researchers have observed an elliptical galaxy that contained cold gas and were not located in the center of a galaxy cluster.
"While we see cold gas, there is no sign of ongoing star formation," co-author Raymond Oonk from ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, said in the news release. "This is bizarre: with plenty of cold gas at their disposal, why aren't these galaxies forming stars?"
The researchers looked at the surrounding electromagnetic spectrum by looking at different wavelengths that show up in specific colors depending on temperature.
"In the six galaxies that are rich in cold gas, the X-ray data show tell-tale signs that the hot gas is cooling," Werner said.
This would usually mean stars would be in the process of forming, but not in this case. In two other galaxies it seemed as if the gas was not cooling at all.
"The contrasting behaviour of these galaxies may have a common explanation: the central supermassive black hole," adds Oonk.
The six galaxies studies that contain cold gas also have "moderately-active" black holes at their centers while the two that do not are "accreting matter at frenzied pace," the news release reported. Hot gas moving towards the center of the galaxy could be what is spurring these jets.
These jets have the ability to heat the galaxy's gas content, keeping the gas from cooling and stars from forming.
"These galaxies are red, but with the giant black holes pumping in their hearts, they are definitely not dead," Werner said.