A radio jet emitted by the supermassive black hole at the heart of a nearby galaxy has been seen to stop the formation of new stars. The jets produced by black holes are known to heat up surrounding gas significantly, making it impossible for birth clouds to condense and collapse into stars, and now this has been witnessed in greater detail then ever before.
The study, published in the Astrophysical Journal, looked at the center of galaxy IC 5063 and discovered several large outflows of gas. The gas has been accelerated by the black hole jet creating a wind stretching for over 2,200 light-years, with velocities between 600 to 1,200 kilometers per second (370 to 745 miles per second) with respect to the regular motion of the galaxy.
This is not the first observation on the effects of the radio jet in IC 5063. The galaxy is very active and it is relatively close, 160 million light-years from us. These two characteristics have made it an ideal candidate to understand the impact that active supermassive black holes have on galaxies.
Another important feature of the galaxy is that the jet is almost aligned with the gas disk, so all of its energy is directly transferred into the gas. A radio jet is made by electrons sent on corkscrew orbits away from a black hole. These electrons emit synchrotron radiation, which excites and heats up the surrounding gas. The radiation creates bow shocks in the gas (like a supersonic jet breaking the sound barrier) that is pushed into forming large, hot, and fast winds.
The jet in IC 5063 has started galactic winds in four distinct regions. The wind temperature is significantly hotter than the surrounding gas, between 1500 to 2700 kelvins depending on the region observed. These winds have a wide reach: about one-fifth of the area observed, over 2 million square light-years, is being heated up.
Stars form after a hydrogen cloud collapses until its own weight forces the hydrogen to fuse into helium and release energy. For the cloud to collapse the gas needs to cool down and condense. But the winds heat up and disperse the gas, disrupting the cycle.
Almost all galaxies are believed to have a supermassive black hole at their center. The radio jets from a supermassive black hole often signal the end for star-formation in galaxies. After that galaxies tend to passively age, hardly forming any new stars.