US researchers published this Wednesday in the journal Nature a study in which they claim to have discovered in the heart of a distant galaxy a black hole that is creating stars instead of gobbling them up. The data was obtained using the Hubble telescope.
This galaxy, called Henize 2-10, has barely a tenth of the number of stars in the Milky Way and is located 30 million light-years away, in the southern constellation Pyxis. A decade ago it sparked a debate among astronomers about whether dwarf galaxies harbored black holes proportional to the supermassive giants found in larger galaxies.
“From the beginning I knew that something unusual and special was happening in Henize 2-10, and now Hubble has provided a very clear picture of the connection between the black hole and a neighboring star-forming region 230 light-years away,” He said Amy Reines, professor of astrophysics at Montana State University (USA) and lead author of the study.
It turns out that the small black hole in Henize 2-10 is connected by a cord of gas to that star-producing region, which is itself protected by a dense cocoon of gas.
However, the flow of gas from the black hole is moving at about 1.6 million kilometers per hour and hits the dense gas cocoon with force, causing it to crack and releasing the newborn stars from inside.
This is the opposite effect of what is seen in larger galaxies, where material falling toward the black hole is pulled by the surrounding magnetic fields, forming plasma jets that move at close to the speed of light. and causing gas clouds trapped in the path of the jets heat up far beyond their ability to cool down and form stars.
However, the gas ejected by the less massive black hole in Henize 2-10 is compressed enough to precipitate the formation of new stars.
Clues to the early universe
Astronomers believe that black holes in dwarf galaxies could serve as an analogue of black holes in the early universe, when they were just beginning to form and grow.
“The era of the first black holes isn’t something we’ve 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, from otherwise, it has been lost in time and space,” Reines concluded.