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Black Hole Winds Might Regulate Size of Galaxy

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Lisa Winter

Guest Author

1008 Black Hole Winds Might Regulate Size of Galaxy

Supermassive black holes still hold a great deal of mystery. While they are commonly regarded as giant entities that gobble up all matter that comes too close, it has also been presumed that they kick out a considerable amount of x-ray wind, as well. The presence of this wind has been confirmed for the first time, and astronomers have even been able to decipher the shape of the wind. This discovery was made by the respective groups working for NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and and ESA’s XMM-Newton telescope. The results were published in Science.

"We know black holes in the centers of galaxies can feed on matter, and this process can produce winds. This is thought to regulate the growth of the galaxies," NuSTAR’s principal investigator Fiona Harrison said in a press release. "Knowing the speed, shape and size of the winds, we can now figure out how powerful they are.”


Image credit: NASA

This paper examined the winds coming out from the quasar of the supermassive black hole in the galaxy PDS 456, located about 2 billion light-years away. The speed of the winds was clocked about a third of the speed of light. This wind is so powerful, it is blasting a considerable amount of gas from the galaxy. As this gas is needed to make new stars, the wind could be affecting the future of stellar formation in a galaxy.

Image credit: ESA

“This is a great example of the synergy between XMM-Newton and NuSTAR,” added Norbert Schartel, who works with the XMM-Newton telescope. “The complementarity of these two X-ray observatories is enabling us to unveil previously hidden details about the powerful side of the universe.”

The galaxy’s proximity to our own has made it incredibly easy for researchers to study. They suspect that these winds allow the black holes to regulate the size of the galaxy by limiting star formation. Much more research is needed to support this idea, not just in PDS 456, but a variety of other galaxies as well.

"For an astronomer, studying PDS 456 is like a paleontologist being given a living dinosaur to study," explained co-author Daniel Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We are able to investigate the physics of these important systems with a level of detail not possible for those found at more typical distances, during the 'Age of Quasars.’"


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