A huge galactic fountain observed

A colossal fountain of molecular gas fed by a black hole located in the center of a galaxy was observed thanks to two instruments of the Very Large Telescope (VTL) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) installed in Chile.

The supermassive black hole originates in the heart of the brightest galaxy in the Abell 2597 cluster and behaves much like a mechanical pump that powers a fountain.

Did you know?

  • The cluster of galaxies Abell 2597 is located a little less than a billion light-years from Earth, in the constellation Aquarius.
  • Its name derives from its membership in the Abell catalog of rich clusters of galaxies.
  • In this catalog are also clusters such as the Fourneau cluster, the Hercules cluster and the Pandora cluster.

This is the first time that cold molecular gas flows into and out of a cosmic fountain are simultaneously observed.

This observation is the first to offer us the confirmation of a complete galactic cycle of the incoming and outgoing flows of a cosmic fountain.

 Grant Tremblay, Harvard-Smithson Astrophysical Center

Astrophysicist Grant Tremblay, the lead author of this study, and his colleagues used the VTL’s large ALMA millimeter / submillimeter array to determine the position and motion of carbon monoxide molecules within the body. nebula.

These cold molecules, characterized by a temperature lower than 250-260 ° C, were observed in phase of fall on the black hole. The team then used the data acquired by the MUSE instrument, which also equips the VTL, to track the hotter gas expelled by the black hole in the form of jets.

An unprecedented observation

The combination of these two groups of data allows for a complete mapping of the process. The cold gas flows towards the black hole, igniting it and causing it to propel fast jets of incandescent plasma into the void.

Then, these jets spring from the black hole, taking the form of a real galactic fountain.

Unable to escape the gravitational pull of the galaxy, the plasma cools down, slows down, and eventually falls back onto the black hole. The cycle repeats itself as well.

Better understand galaxies

This observation helps to better understand the life cycle of galaxies.

Inbound and outbound flows had already been observed in previous studies, but this is the first time they have been simultaneously detected within the same system. This observation confirms that the two flows are part of the same process.

The details of this work are published in the Astrophysical Journal.

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