Immense Galactic Winds Discovered Shredding Entire Galaxies

They are so strong that stars can't form.
Brad Bergan
Galactic wind powered by a supermassive black hole.ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO)

At the center of every galaxy lies a cosmic monster whose hunger for more remains forever unsated.

In a cosmic yet dark reminder of the meme "we live in a society," scientists have spotted a disturbingly massive black hole so powerful that it's shredding its host galaxy apart from the inside out, according to a recent preprint study.

Look on the destructive forces of the universe, dear reader, and rejoice: This fretful scene could be a common phase in the evolution of galaxies.

Galactic wind in distant galaxy prevents stellar formation

A black hole's mass is typically proportional to the mass of a galaxy's central region, which helps explain why the sizes of black holes and galaxies differ by roughly 10 orders of magnitude. This correlation between masses of astronomical objects has led astronomers to come to think that the two phenomena evolved together via some physical interaction. One mode of interaction is the galactic wind, which plays an essential role in galactic evolution. Galactic wind is an extremely high-velocity stellar wind jetting out from newly-formed massive stars, spiral density waves, or from the motion of a supermassive black hole.

Confronting the question of where galactic winds came from, lead author of the recent study and researcher at the National Astronomical Observatory in Japan (NAOJ) Takuma Izumi said: "This is an important question because it is related to an important problem in astronomy: How did galaxies and supermassive black holes coevolve?" according to a TechXplorist report. Using data from the NAOJ's Subaru Telescope, scientists sought out supermassive black holes, collecting data from more than 100 galaxies containing supermassive black holes, at an extreme range of 13 billion light-years.

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Then, with ALMA's high sensitivity, the researchers analyzed the motion of gas in the galaxies hosting these colossal black holes. One of them, called J1243+0100, emitted radio waves from the dust and carbon ions present in the ancient galaxy. Further research unveiled a titanic galactic wind swirling out at roughly 1,118,468 miles per hour (500 km/second), moving from the driving force of a supermassive black hole. The wind's energy is so immense that it's pushing stellar material away too fast for star formation to continue.

Supermassive black holes and galaxies co-evolved since the dawn of the universe

This is the oldest-yet observed case of galactic winds moving so fast that matter is unable to condense into new stars, and this shows scientists that black holes have a substantial role in changing the growth of galaxies, even from in the fairly young universe. Moving forward with this knowledge, scientists also analyzed the motion of the quiet gas in J1243+0100, and found the mass at the galaxy's bulge. Staggeringly, it was 30 billion times the mass of our sun. By dizzying contrast, the mass of the galaxy's supermassive black hole was roughly 1% of this.

Comparing the mass ratio of the supermassive black hole to the galactic bulge, the researchers found this to be nearly identical to the mass ratio of black holes to galaxies in our present-day universe, which means supermassive black holes and galaxies engaged in coevolution when the universe was less than one billion years old. "Our observations support recent high-precision computer simulations which have predicted that coevolutionary relationships were in place even at about 13 billion years ago," added Izumi in an ALMA blog post. "We are planning to observe a large number of such objects in the future. We hope to clarify whether or not the primordial coevolution in this object is an accurate picture of the general universe at that time."

The universe can be a terrifying place. Whenever you see the poetic majesty of a spiral galaxy, chances are there's a haunting secret in the core, where a supermassive black hole is resting between nightmarish feeding frenzies, after coevolving with its host galaxy. Now we know this relationship is nearly as old as the universe itself, but the next step lies in understanding more about how things looked in general, at the dawn of our modern cosmos.

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