A black hole has been ‘ giving birth to stars in a nearby dwarf galaxy.
The study shows that black holes are not always the violent and destructive objects they are usually known as. Instead, they appear to be able to create stars, not just eat them.
Nasa’s Hubble Space Telescope spotted one such black hole in the galaxy known as Henize 2-10, which is 30 million lightyears away.
As well as suggesting that black holes can be more productive than we realised, the new research might also help us understand where supermassive black holes originally come from.
Amy Reines, the researcher who published the first evidence of a black hole in the galaxy in 2011, was also the lead scientist on the new paper.
“From the beginning I knew 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 located 230 light-years from the black hole,” she said.
A paper describing the findings, ‘Black-hole-triggered star formation in the dwarf galaxy Henize 2-10’, is published today in Nature.
In bigger galaxies, material that falls towards the black hole is torn up by its magnetic fields, which create blasts of plasma that move at almost the speed of light. Any gas cloud that is caught in that jet would be heated to much to ever create stars.
The black hole in the dwarf galaxy Henize 2-10 is smaller and the material that flows out of it does so more gently, however. That means that the gas was compressed in the right way to help form stars, not stop them from doing so.
“At only 30 million light-years away, Henize 2-10 is close enough that Hubble was able to capture both images and spectroscopic evidence of a black hole outflow very clearly. The additional surprise was that, rather than suppressing star formation, the outflow was triggering the birth of new stars,” said Zachary Schutte, Reines’ graduate student and lead author of the new study.
The new study of the black hole by Hubble could also help provide better detail on how such supermassive black holes are formed. Because it has stayed small, it could offer a picture of what other – now bigger – black holes looked like when they were younger, and how they might form and grow.
“The era of the first black holes is not something that we have 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 has otherwise been lost to time and space,” said Reines in a statement.