Supermassive black holes are enigmatic beings lurking hungry in the cores of perhaps any great galaxy in the visible Universe, where they hide in dark, voracious lies, waiting for their meal to churn down to their waiting maws. Such in-falling buffets that consist of damaged planets, broken gas clouds, or some other undesirable celestial body ruined by the gravitational snatching hands of the large black hole. Once a doomed object has passed the fatal point of no return, called the horizon of events, it can never return from the lair of this gravitational beast, and it is forever lost to the rest of the Universe.
Yet, given their poor name for being mercilessly destructive, a supermassive black hole that haunts a remote, far-off galaxy’s core has proven itself to be loving. This body has a mother core and assists in the creation of a brilliant new baby star about a million light-years away. One light-year is the length of six trillion miles.
The discovery of this motherly heart of darkness, which has succeeded in sparking star births over a mind-boggling distance — as well as across multiple galaxies — was made by astronomers using the Chandra X-ray Observatory of NASA and other telescopes. If confirmed, the black hole for such an object behaving as a nurturing stellar mother, kick-starting star-birth, would represent the widest reach ever observed. Indeed, this motherly heart of darkness has enhanced star formation.
“This is the first time we’ve seen a single black hole boost star birth in more than one galaxy at a time. It’s amazing to think that a black hole in one galaxy can have a say in what’s happening in millions of trillions of miles away in other galaxies,” Dr. Roberto Gilli commented in a November 26, 2019, Chandra Observatory Press Release. Dr. Gilli is a lead author of the study describing the discovery from the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) in Bologna, Italy.
The Raven citing, “Nevermore”
Supermassive black holes are selfish bodies weighing in on millions to billions of times greater than our Sun’s mass. Our own galaxy of the Milky Way plays host to just such a gravitational beast residing in its secret heart. Our local supermassive black hole is called Sagittarius A * and is of comparatively small mass as supermassive beasts go. Sagittarius A * (pronounced saj-a-star) weighs a “mere” millions of solar masses, as opposed to billions. The dark heart of our Milky Way now is still. It is an ancient beast, so it only sometimes awakens to feast on an unwanted celestial body that has been roaming too close to where it is waiting.
Now though it is largely inactive, while both Sagittarius A * and the Earth were young, it gave a greedy dinner and glared like a quasar brilliantly. Quasars are the brightly blinding accretion disks surrounding the active supermassive black holes which torment galaxy centers.
The black holes are not only hollow space, given their deceptive term. They do come in more than one size, indeed. In addition to the supermassive variety, there are black holes of stellar mass that develop when an extremely massive star runs out of its required supply of nuclear-fusing fuel and explodes violently as a supernova core-collapse (Type II). A particularly massive star ‘s gravitational collapse heralds its natural ‘death’. If a doomed heavy star no longer has any nuclear-fusing fuel to burn it has reached the end of the stellar road. Within a still-“living “roiling, broiling, brilliant star, nuclear-fusion creates radiation pressure that attempts to push all the stellar material outward. Meanwhile, the very gravity of the star is trying to pull everything inward. This creates a delicate balance that retains a star bounce. Unfortunately, when a giant, massive star runs out of fuel and contains a heavy core of iron-nickel, it can no longer churn out the pressure. In the end, gravity wins. The heart of the star is melting, so it is going supernova. Where a star once existed there is no longer a star.
Astronomers have found compelling proof of the presence of intermediate-mass black holes which weigh less than their supermassive kin but more than their “relatives” to stellar mass. Crush enough mass into a small enough space, and form every time a black hole. Some scientists have suggested that these intermediate-mass objects meet and merge in the early Cosmos. It has been suggested for this reason that they have served as the “seeds” that created the supermassive black holes that haunt the mysterious hearts of most, if not all, large galaxies, including ours.
The supermassive black hole that resides in the Milky Way is not a lonely gravitational beast. Sagittarius A * is full of company. Indeed, theoretical studies suggest that a large population of stellar-mass black holes — possibly as many as 20,000 — could trip the fantastic light around the central black hole resident in our own Galaxy. A 2018 research focused on data from Chandra indicates the presence of a vast chest of celestial mass black holes circling the heart of our Milky Way.
Some current theories suggest that the ancient Universe already contained supermassive black holes. During that very early era, gaseous clouds and doomed stars whirled around and down into the waiting, greedy, gravitational snatching claws of the hungry beast, never again to return from the violently swirling maelstrom surrounding this bizarre entity. It formed a brilliant, violent storm of glaring material around the black hole — its accretion disk (quasar), as the captured, doomed material swirled down to its inevitable demise. As this bright and fiery material grew hotter and hotter, a raging storm of radiation hurled out — especially as it traveled ever closer to the horizon of events, which is the point of no return.
John Michell and Pierre-Simon Laplace proposed, in the 18th century, the possibility that such insults could actually exist in nature as black holes to our Earth-evolved common sense. In 1915, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of objects bearing such powerful gravitational fields in his General Theory of Relativity, that anything unfortunate enough to wander too close to their pull would be consumed. Nevertheless, at the time this concept appeared so outrageous that Einstein rejected his own idea — though his calculations declared otherwise.
In 1916, the physicist Karl Schwarzschild proposed the first modern General Relativity solution which defined a black hole. However, until nearly half a century later, its interpretation as a Spacetime area, from which absolutely nothing could escape once snared, was not adequately understood. Until then, such magnetic beasts were just called statistical oddities. Finally, theoretical physicists were able to show in the middle of the 20th century that these peculiar children of Mother Nature reflect a common interpretation of General Relativity.
A Maternal Black Hole With a touch of Midas
The supermassive black hole that nurtures resides in the center of a galaxy about 9.9 billion light-years from Earth. According to observations made with Very Large Telescope (VLT) and Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) of the European Southern Observatory, the galaxy is in the company of at least seven neighboring galaxies.
Using the Jansky Very Wide Array of the National Science Foundation (NSA), scientists have previously detected releases of radio waves from a stream of high-energy particles over a million light-years long. The jet increasing be traced back to the supermassive black hole, which Chandra observed as a strong X-ray source. The X-rays are created through hot gas that whirls around the supermassive black hole. Dr. Gilli and his colleagues also spotted a diffuse X-ray emission cloud surrounding one end of the radio jet. This emission of X-rays probably comes from a huge gas bubble heated up by the dance performed by the energetic particles in the radio jet with surrounding matter
It could have trapped the cold gas in these planetary neighbors, while the searing-hot bubble spread and infiltrated the surrounding galaxies. This would have brought forth fiery baby stars. Most of the galaxies concerned exist at around the same distance — around 400,000 light-years — away from the growing bubble’s center. The scientists calculate that the rate of stellar birth is two to five times that of typical galaxies with similar masses and distance from our planet.
“King Midas’ story talks about his magic touch that can turn metal into gold. Here’s a case of a black hole that has helped turn gas into stars, and its reach is intergalactic,” commented the study co-author Dr. Marco Mignoli in November 26, 2019, Chandra Press Release. Dr. Mignoli also belongs to INAF.
Astronomers have found numerous cases when a black hole affects its atmosphere through “poor reinforcement,” suggesting they most also encountered a mysterious black hole in the process of hindering the creation of new stars. This will happen as the jets released by the black hole carry too much energy through a galaxy’s searing-hot gas — or galaxy cluster — that the gas can not adequately cool down to create a significant number of baby-stars. Though it may seem to defy common sense, things have to get cold before the birth of a hot baby star.
“Black holes have a well-earned reputation for being powerful and deadly, but not always. This is a prime example of how they sometimes defy that stereotype and can be nurtured instead,” co-author Alessandro Peca commented in the Chandra Press Release. Peca, formerly an INAF student at the University of Miami, is currently a doctoral student.
The astronomers used a total of six days of Chandra observation time spread over a period of five months.
“It is only because of this very deep observation that we have seen the hot gas bubble produced by the black hole. By targeting similar objects, we can discover that positive feedback is very common in the formation of galaxy groups and clusters,” co-author Dr. Colin Norman said in the Chandra Press Release. Dr. Norman is from the University of Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland.
A paper was published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics which describes these results.