Intense winds emitted by supermassive black holes could inhibit their host galaxies' ability to create new stars.
Data from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and ESA's (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton telescope revealed the stunning phenomenon. In the past, researchers suspected the existence of these fierce winds, but were never able to prove their existence until now. The recent observations even allowed researchers to measure the strength of the winds, revealing the influence they can have on a galaxy.
"We know black holes in the centers of galaxies can feed on matter, and this process can produce winds. This is thought to regulate the growth of the galaxies," said Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). "Knowing the speed, shape and size of the winds, we can now figure out how powerful they are."
The findings show the extremely bright black hole (quasar), dubbed PDS 456, sustains wind that carry more energy every second than the equivalent of over a trillion Suns.
"Now we know quasar winds significantly contribute to mass loss in a galaxy, driving out its supply of gas, which is fuel for star formation," said the study's lead author Emanuele Nardini of Keele University.
Past XMM-Newton observations have shown black hole winds blowing towards Earth, but could not determine if these winds occurred in other directions. The winds carry X-ray-blocking detectable iron; by combining higher-energy X-ray data from NuSTAR with observations from XMM-Newton the researchers noticed iron spread out to the sides, showing the winds are emitted in a spherical pattern. Once they determined the shape of the winds, the researchers were able to determine their strength.
Astronomers believe black holes and their host galaxy evolve together and influence each other's growth. These recent findings suggest the supermassive black hole and its high-speed winds have an enormous influence on its host galaxy. The findings also allow researchers to peer 10 billion years into the past, when black holes were still shaping nearby galaxies to be what we see today.
"For an astronomer, studying PDS 456 is like a paleontologist being given a living dinosaur to study," said study co-author Daniel Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "We are able to investigate the physics of these important systems with a level of detail not possible for those found at more typical distances, during the 'Age of Quasars.'"