Quasar's belch solves longstanding mystery (w/ Video)

February 24, 2011 by Peter Michaud, University of Maryland
Artist’s conceptualization of the environment around the supermassive black hole at the center of Mrk 231. The broad outflow seen in the Gemini data is shown as the fan-shaped wedge at the top of the accretion disk around the black hole. This side-view is not what is seen from the Earth where we see it ‘looking down the throat’ of the outflow. A similar outflow is probably present under the disk as well and is hinted at in this illustration. The total amount of material entrained in the broad flow is at least 400 times the mass of the Sun per year. Note that a more localized, narrower jet is shown, this jet was known prior to the Gemini discovery of the broader outflow featured here. Credit:Gemini Observatory/AURA, artwork by Lynette Cook

(PhysOrg.com) -- When two galaxies merge to form a giant, the central supermassive black hole in the new galaxy develops an insatiable appetite. However, this ferocious appetite is unsustainable.

For the first time, observations with the clearly reveal an extreme, large-scale galactic outflow that brings the cosmic dinner to a halt. The outflow is effectively blowing the galaxy apart in a negative feedback loop, depriving the galaxy's monstrous black hole of the gas and dust it needs to sustain its frenetic growth. It also limits the material available for the galaxy to make new generations of stars.

The groundbreaking work is a collaboration between the University of Maryland's Sylvain Veilleux and David Rupke of Rhodes College in Tennessee. The results are to be published in the March 10 issue of The and were completed with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

According to Veilleux, Markarian 231 (Mrk 231), the galaxy observed with Gemini, is an ideal laboratory for studying outflows caused by feedback from supermassive . "This object is arguably the closest and best example that we know of a big galaxy in the final stages of a violent merger and in the process of shedding its cocoon and revealing a very energetic central quasar. This is really a last gasp of this galaxy; the black hole is belching its next meals into oblivion!" As extreme as Mrk 231's eating habits appear, Veilleux adds that they are probably not unique, "When we look deep into space and back in time, quasars like this one are seen in large numbers and all of them may have gone through shedding events like the one we are witnessing in Mrk 231."

Although Mrk 231 is extremely well studied, and known for its collimated jets, the Gemini observations exposed a broad outflow extending in all directions for at least 8,000 light years around the galaxy's core. The resulting data reveal gas (characterized by sodium, which absorbs yellow light) streaming away from the galaxy center at speeds of over 1,000 kilometers per second. At this speed, the gas could go from New York to Los Angeles in about 4 seconds. This outflow is removing gas from the nucleus at a prodigious rate - more than 2.5 times the star formation rate. The speeds observed eliminate stars as the possible "engine" fueling the outflow. This leaves the black hole itself as the most likely culprit, and it can easily account for the tremendous energy required.

Movie showing the gas in a galaxy merger with a quasar-driven "blowout"

The energy involved is sufficient to sweep away matter from the galaxy. However, "when we say the galaxy is being blown apart, we are only referring to the gas and dust in the galaxy," notes Rupke. "The galaxy is mostly stars at this stage in its life, and the outflow has no effect on them. The crucial thing is that the fireworks of new star formation and black hole feeding are coming to an end, most likely as a result of this outflow."

The environment around such a black hole is commonly known as an active galactic nucleus (AGN), and the extreme influx of material into these black holes is the power source for quasi-stellar objects or quasars. Merging galaxies help to feed the central black hole and also shroud it in gas. Mrk 231 is in transition, now clearing its surroundings. Eventually, running out of fuel, the AGN will become extinct. Without gas to form new stars, the host galaxy also starves to death, turning into a collection of old aging stars with few young stars to regenerate the stellar population. Ultimately, these old stars will make the galaxy appear redder giving these galaxies the moniker "red and dead."

Numerical astrophysicist Philip Hopkins, a Miller Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, explains that many physical processes unique to rapidly growing black holes are likely to play a role in propelling the winds observed by Gemini. "At its peak, the quasar shines with such intensity that the light itself is 'trapped' by a cocoon of gas and dust pushing on material with a force that can easily overcome the gravitational pull of the black hole." Hopkins adds that the bath of X-rays and gamma rays known to be generated by quasars could also heat up the gas in the galaxy's center until it reaches a temperature where it "boils over" and causes a bomb-like explosion. "But until now, we haven't been able to catch a system 'in the act.'" Part of the problem, according to Hopkins, has been that the most visible outflows are those 'collimated jets' already known in Mrk 231. These jets are trapped (probably by magnetic fields) in an extremely narrow beam, whereas material is falling into the black hole from all directions. The previously known jets therefore only cause very localized damage - drilling a tiny hole in the cocoon, rather than sweeping it away more broadly as seen in these new, more all-encompassing, outflows.

The observations for this study were obtained with the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS) on Gemini North, on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i. The study used a powerful technique known as integral field spectroscopy. The integral field unit (IFU) in GMOS obtains a spectrum at several hundred points around the galaxy's core. Each spectrum is then, in turn, used to determine the velocity of the gas at that point and represents the third dimension in what is called a data cube.

Markarian 231 is located about 600 million light years away in the direction of the constellation of Ursa Major. Although its mass is uncertain, some estimates indicate that Mrk 231 has a mass in stars about three times that of our Milky Way galaxy and its central black hole is estimated to have a mass of at least ten million solar masses or also about three times that of the in the Milky Way.

The growth of supermassive black holes, which are found in the centers of all normal galaxies (including our Milky Way), is fundamentally linked to the stars in galaxies. Black holes grow and stars form over time, resulting in a tight connection between the mass of the central black hole and the mass in stars of the host galaxy. Since most in the local universe do not currently have actively growing black holes at their centers, some process must eventually emerge to shut down this growth and development. Theoretical modeling specifically points to quasar outflows as the culprit. In this negative feedback loop, while the black hole is actively acquiring mass as a quasar, the outflows carry away energy and material, suppressing further growth. Small-scale outflows had been observed before, but none sufficiently powerful to account for this predicted and fundamental aspect of galaxy evolution. The Gemini observations provide the first clear evidence for outflows powerful enough to support the process necessary to starve the galactic black hole and quench star formation.

Explore further: Chandra finds evidence for quasar ignition

Related Stories

Chandra finds evidence for quasar ignition

March 23, 2006

New data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may provide clues to how quasars "turn on." Since the discovery of quasars over 40 years ago, astronomers have been trying to understand the conditions surrounding the birth ...

How do supermassive black holes get so big?

April 26, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- At the center of most galaxies lie supermassive black holes that can grow to become more than a billion times larger than our Sun. However, astrophysicists don’t fully understand the formation and evolution ...

Chandra data reveal rapidly whirling black holes

January 10, 2008

A new study using results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory provides one of the best pieces of evidence yet that many supermassive black holes are spinning extremely rapidly. The whirling of these giant black holes drives ...

Rain of giant gas clouds create active galactic nuclei

July 8, 2010

Galaxies like our own were built billions of years ago from a deluge of giant clouds of gas, some of which continue to rain down. Now new calculations tie the rain of giant clouds of gas to active galactic nuclei (AGN), the ...

Surprise: Dwarf galaxy harbors supermassive black hole

January 9, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The surprising discovery of a supermassive black hole in a small nearby galaxy has given astronomers a tantalizing look at how black holes and galaxies may have grown in the early history of the Universe. ...

Astronomers calculate mass of largest black hole yet

January 14, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Weighing 6.6 billion solar masses, the black hole at the center of galaxy M87 is the most massive black hole for which a precise mass has been measured. Using the Frederick C. Gillett Gemini Telescope on ...

Recommended for you


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (5) Feb 24, 2011
The computer simulation in the video illustrates the point really well.
not rated yet Feb 24, 2011
So, basically if more material gathers outside of the event horizion in the ergosphere than can fit, it can generate a shock wave that throws mass back out into space?
1.6 / 5 (20) Feb 24, 2011
There are no black holes.

Neutron repulsion prevents their formation.

Neutron repulsion causes massive neutron stars to fragment and eject material.

"Neutron Repulsion", in press (2011) 19 pages


With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
5 / 5 (9) Feb 24, 2011
omatumr, your statement isn't really worded properly. Sure, neutron repulsion prevents black holes from forming from neutron stars, but other stars can still form black holes. Besides, this article doesn't mention anything about neutron stars, so I don't know why you posted that.
4.5 / 5 (8) Feb 24, 2011
Just mention space, and you see omatumr is there spamming with the same links every time. See his profile.
1.4 / 5 (9) Feb 24, 2011
Sure, neutron repulsion prevents black holes forming from neutron stars, but other stars can still form black holes.

What formation sequence by-passes the neutron star to form a black hole?

Ordinary star => . . . . => . . . . =>Black Hole

Please see the video: "Scientific Genesis: 3. Neutron Repulsion"

5 / 5 (2) Feb 24, 2011
I can see neutron repulsion at the atomic level, but not at the galactic (neutron stars breaking up) level. If there was so much repulsion, then how did the neutron star accumulate so much neutron-only mass to be created?
5 / 5 (5) Feb 24, 2011

What formation sequence by-passes the neutron star to form a black hole?

Ordinary star => . . . . => . . . . =>Black Hole

That's not how it works. A massive star doesn't create a neutron star that then collapses into a black hole. The forces are so strong that the core collapses directly into a black hole. In a fraction of a second there will probably be some kind of compressed state of the core that resembles a neutron star but it is not stable.
5 / 5 (5) Feb 24, 2011
I can see neutron repulsion at the atomic level, but not at the galactic (neutron stars breaking up) level. If there was so much repulsion, then how did the neutron star accumulate so much neutron-only mass to be created?

Steve, I've tried to explain this to Oliver. 'Neutron repulsion' is not a force of nature. The forces are the electromagnetic (photons), the strong (gluons), the weak (Z,W) and gravity (gravitons?). In quantum mechanical terms 'neutron repulsion' is referred to as Fermi-Dirac statistics. It's a principle of fermions that simply states that two fermions cannot be in the same quantum mechanical state at the same time (roughly speaking they cannot merge). How this statistical principle of quantum mechanics is able to blow giant neutron stars apart is a mystery to me - not to mention where those giant neutron stars come from in the first place.
1 / 5 (9) Feb 24, 2011
Please read the paper and study carefully the experimental data in the graphs

"Neutron Repulsion", in press (2011) 19 pages


Then address any questions to me.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
1 / 5 (7) Feb 24, 2011
Just illogical. Too many visible distant AGN's too conclude that they shut themselves off. No, the AGN's are nucleating new matter and energy, and growing their host galaxies from within. Thus, the size of the core and the galaxy are linked. The core grows in mass and instability, nucleating and ejecting more matter at an increasing rate. They are not always active; cyclic. See Fermi bubbles, and AGN's now shown to be shutting down in thousands, rather than millions of years.

There are no black holes of infinite density. Absurd. Increasing energy generation therein in nonlinear proportion to mass density leads to stability against gravitational collapse.

At least they got that accretion is not a stable source of AGN fuel. Eventually the core will grow so active to disperse radially the stars in the galaxy.
5 / 5 (7) Feb 24, 2011

I don't know what to say, you seem to live in some kind of parallel universe. If that makes you happy then lets just leave it at that.
not rated yet Feb 25, 2011
well, the milky/andromeda merger isn't for another 4 or so billion years so I won't worry about this one...
1 / 5 (3) Feb 25, 2011
Kinda wish this model started about 5 seconds later, and maybe run for another 30 seconds to a minute. Would be interesting to see how dense the final object becomes, and how much of the ejecta eventually falls back in.

Also, there are some thing which should be happening in there which this model doesn't pick up on at all, including "tidal" forces between the galaxies as they approach one another on the first "pass," they should be elongating in one another's direction ahead of time. Also, the gravitational perturbations should be causing star formations in compressed regions, as well as gas being ejected parallel to tangent line in "gravitational dead zones" as the disks come into contact with one another. The "tail" after the first pass is ejected at the wrong angle, wrong time (It should be ejected just BEFORE first contact, not afterwards,) and is severely over-done.
1 / 5 (4) Feb 25, 2011
Also, the galaxy which starts in the right foreground and is then in the left background after the first pass, this thing begins nucleating matter spontaneously (downward) for no reason whatsoever, AFTER it has initially re-organized into a spiral. This makes no sense at all.

I also don't like the mystical green goo which suddenly appears as pass 2 starts to happen. Maybe this is supposed to represent gamma and x-ray radiation, but it just looks stupid.
1.6 / 5 (7) Feb 26, 2011

I don't know what to say, you seem to live in some kind of parallel universe. If that makes you happy then lets just leave it at that.

Thanks for your comment.

The experimental are shown in the paper.

For example, Fig. 1 was the first finding that primordial He was tagged with excess Xe-136 at the birth of the solar system

How do you explain the observation?

Here's the paper again: "Neutron Repulsion", in press (2011) 19 pages


5 / 5 (4) Feb 27, 2011
OM: I've read your Neutron Repulsion paper and it seems to leave me with more questions than answers.

Your paper states that the core of our sun is the remnant of an evolved star that imploded then exploded - leaving a neutron rich core to fuel your neutron repulsion theory. I would expect that if there is symmetry in such things and considering the mass of the sun; should there not be an exceedingly high ratio of protons and lack of neutrons in our solar system? Assuming of course that the sun's core retained the lion's share of the neutrons.

A theoretical proton decay halflife of 10^33 years certainly wouldn't account for the apparent lack of protons. Also, the 12-year Soudan2 Proton Decay experiment did not provide any difinitive evidence of proton decay.

So, where have all the protons gone? (I think I know your answer to this question based upon your paper, but I want to see if you actually came to the same conclusion. If you did you didn't include it in your paper).
5 / 5 (5) Feb 27, 2011
Your paper states that the core of our sun is the remnant of an evolved star that imploded then exploded - leaving a neutron rich core

Sounds like a perpetual motion machine to me. A star exists because it was seeded by a previous star that went ka-blam, leaving behind a neutron star which spawns a new star. Repeat forever.
not rated yet Feb 27, 2011
So - very similar to humans - you eat too much, your going to belch or toot!
1 / 5 (6) Feb 27, 2011
Your paper states that the core of our sun is the remnant of an evolved star that imploded then exploded - leaving a neutron rich core

Sounds like a perpetual motion machine to me.

Thank you for your comments and for taking the time to read the paper.

The figure (Fig. 2) suggesting that "our sun is the remnant of an evolved star that imploded then exploded" has been in circulation since it was first presented at several conferences in 1976-1977.

The figure was based on the classical paper on element synthesis in stars by B2FH (1957).

Yes stars seem to explode and regenerate new stars (like the Mayan Sun God?), but I now doubt if the first stage was was produced by the collapse of an interstellar cloud, as B2FH assumed.

Again, I thank you for taking the time to read and comment on the paper.

Since the Sun is an ordinary star, the implications for cosmology,astronomy and astrophysics will be significant, if correct.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel

4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 28, 2011
Again; Where are all the protons?

To me this is the most significant question left unanswered in your paper to justify your theory. I can see two possible solutions based upon your paper (one a bit more logical and "testable" than the other), but again, you didn't provide any solution to this question. Without an answer to this question your repulsion theory seems to be at least unsupported and at most fundementally flawed. In either case without a potentially viable solution to this issue it should be downgraded from a theory to a hypothesis.
1 / 5 (4) Mar 01, 2011
Please read the paper and ask specific questions.

There are no protons in the deep interiors of B2FH's evolved stars.

However, stars actually make protons by neutron decay, e.g.,

neutron => H+ + e-

This paper from the 2001 Lunar Science Conference may help:

"The Sun's Origin, Composition and Source of Energy"


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.