Nav: Home

Cosmic fountain offers clues to how galaxies evolve

November 06, 2018

Galaxy evolution can be chaotic and messy, but it seems that streams of cold gas spraying out from the region around supermassive black holes may act to calm the storm.

This is according to an international team of scientists who have provided the first clear and compelling evidence of this process in action.

Using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) of telescopes, the team, which includes researchers from Cardiff University, has observed a supermassive black hole acting like a 'monumental fountain' in the middle of a galaxy over a billion light-years from Earth.

At the centre of the galaxy, named Abell 2597, the black hole is drawing in vast stores of cold molecular gas and then spraying them back out again in an ongoing cycle.

The giant elliptical galaxy Abell 2597 lies at the heart of one of the universe's most massive structures and has a sprawling cluster of other galaxies surrounding it.

According to the researchers, this entire system operates via a self-regulating feedback loop. The incoming material provides power for the fountain as it "drains" toward the central black hole, like water entering the pump of a fountain. This gas then causes the black hole to ignite with activity, launching high-velocity jets of super-heated material that shoot out of the galaxy.

As it travels, this material pushes out clumps and streamers of gas into the galaxy's expansive halo, where it eventually rains back in on the black hole, triggering the entire process anew.

By studying the location and motion of molecules of carbon monoxide (CO) with ALMA, which shine brightly in millimetre-wavelength light, the researchers were able to measure the motion of the gas as it falls in toward the black hole.

It is from these plumes of gas that new stars are formed in galaxies, and the researchers believe that the process they have observed could be common across the Universe and, more importantly, could be crucial to the development of massive galaxies like this one.

Dr Timothy Davis, from the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University, said: "Galaxy evolution can be pretty chaotic, and big galaxies like this tend to live hard and die young. For the first time we have been able to observe the full cycle of a supermassive black hole fountain, that acts to regulate this process, prolonging the life of galaxies."

"The supermassive black hole at the centre of this giant galaxy acts like a mechanical 'pump' in a water fountain," said Grant Tremblay, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and lead author on the paper.

"This is one of the first systems in which we find clear evidence for both cold molecular gas inflow toward the black hole and outflow or uplift from the jets that the black hole launches."
-end-
Notes to editors

1. For further information contact

Michael Bishop
Senior Communications Officer
Cardiff University
Tel: 02029 874499
Email: bishopm1@cardiff.ac.uk

2. Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain's leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK's most research intensive universities. The 2014 Research Excellence Framework ranked the University 5th in the UK for research excellence. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University's breadth of expertise encompasses: the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences; and the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering, along with a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning.

Cardiff University

Related Evolution Articles:

Artificial evolution of an industry
A research team has taken a deep dive into the newly emerging domain of 'forward-looking' business strategies that show firms have far more ability to actively influence the future of their markets than once thought.
Paleontology: Experiments in evolution
A new find from Patagonia sheds light on the evolution of large predatory dinosaurs.
A window into evolution
The C4 cycle supercharges photosynthesis and evolved independently more than 62 times.
Is evolution predictable?
An international team of scientists working with Heliconius butterflies at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama was faced with a mystery: how do pairs of unrelated butterflies from Peru to Costa Rica evolve nearly the same wing-color patterns over and over again?
Predicting evolution
A new method of 're-barcoding' DNA allows scientists to track rapid evolution in yeast.
Insect evolution: Insect evolution
Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have shown that the incidence of midge and fly larvae in amber is far higher than previously thought.
Evolution of aesthetic dentistry
One of the main goals of dental treatment is to mimic teeth and design smiles in the most natural and aesthetic manner, based on the individual and specific needs of the patient.
An evolution in the understanding of evolution
In an open-source research paper, a UVA Engineering professor and her former Ph.D. student share a new, more accurate method for modeling evolutionary change.
Chemical evolution -- One-pot wonder
Before life, there was RNA: Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich show how the four different letters of this genetic alphabet could be created from simple precursor molecules on early Earth -- under the same environmental conditions.
Catching evolution in the act
Researchers have produced some of the first evidence that shows that artificial selection and natural selection act on the same genes, a hypothesis predicted by Charles Darwin in 1859.
More Evolution News and Evolution Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.