Scientists discover how supermassive black holes keep galaxies turned off

May 25, 2016, University of Oxford
An artist's rendition of the galaxies Akira (right) and Tetsuo (left) in action. Akira's gravity pulls Tetsuo's gas into its central supermassive black hole, fueling winds that have the power to heat Akira's gas. Because of the action of the black hole winds, Tetsuo's donated gas is rendered inert, preventing a new cycle of star formation in Akira. Credit: Kavli IPMU

An international team of scientists has identified a common phenomenon in galaxies that could explain why huge numbers of them turn into cosmic graveyards.

Galaxies begin their existence as lively and colourful spiral , full of and dust, and actively forming bright new stars. However, as galaxies evolve, they quench their star formation and turn into featureless deserts, devoid of fresh new stars, and generally remain as such for the rest of their evolution. But the mechanism that produces this dramatic transformation and keeps galaxies turned off, is one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in galaxy evolution.

Now, thanks to the new large SDSS-IV MaNGA survey of galaxies, a collaborative effort led by the University of Tokyo and involving the University of Oxford has discovered a surprisingly common new phenomenon in galaxies, dubbed "red geysers", that could explain how the process works.

Researchers interpret the red geysers as galaxies hosting low-energy which drive intense interstellar winds. These winds suppress star formation by heating up the ambient gas found in galaxies and preventing it to cool and condense into stars.

The research will be published in the journal Nature.

Lead author Dr Edmond Cheung, from the University of Tokyo's Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, said: 'Stars form from the gas, but in many galaxies stars were found not to form despite an abundance of gas. It was like having deserts in densely clouded regions. We knew quiescent galaxies needed some way to suppress star formation, and now we think the red geysers phenomenon may represent how typical quiescent galaxies maintain their quiescence.'

'Stars form from the gas, a bit like the drops of rain condense from the water vapour. And in both cases one needs the gas to cool down, for condensation to occur. But we could not understand what was preventing this cooling from happening in many galaxies,' said Co-author Dr Michele Cappellari, from the Department of Physics at Oxford University. 'But when we modelled the motion of the gas in the red geysers, we found that the gas was being pushed away from the galaxy centre, and escaping the galaxy gravitational pull.'

'The discovery was made possible by the amazing power of the ongoing MaNGA galaxy survey' said Dr Kevin Bundy, from the University of Tokyo, the overall leader of the collaboration. 'The survey allows us to observe galaxies in three dimensions, by mapping not only how they appear on the sky, but also how their stars and gas move inside them.'

Using a near-dormant distant galaxy named Akira as a prototypical example, the researchers describe how the wind's driving mechanism is likely to originate in Akira's galactic nucleus. The energy input from this nucleus, powered by a supermassive black hole, is capable of producing the wind, which itself contains enough mechanical energy to heat ambient, cooler gas in the galaxy and thus suppress star formation.

The researchers identified an episodic quality to these jets of wind, leading them to the name red geysers (with 'red' colour due to the lack of blue young stars). This phenomenon, discussed in the paper with reference to Akira, appears surprisingly common and could be generally applicable to all quiescent galaxies.

The study made use of optical imaging spectroscopy from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-IV Mapping Nearby Galaxies at Apache Point Observatory (SDSS-IV MaNGA) programme.

The paper 'Suppressing in quiescent galaxies with supermassive black hole winds' will be published in Nature.

Explore further: Image: Hubble spies a spiral snowflake

More information: Suppressing star formation in quiescent galaxies with supermassive black hole winds, Nature, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/nature18006

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8 comments

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ursiny33
1 / 5 (7) May 25, 2016
The main mechanism in star formation in gas clouds is magnetically driven in the atoms by their dominant quantum constructed charges by attraction to build atom mass clusters thru attraction forces, like an iron atom has 26 neutrons and multiple shells of negatively dominant electrons in orbit around them ,making them a negatively dominant charged element by its negatively charge mass outweighing the positive charged particles an hydrogen is a dominant positively charged quantum construction that would be magnetically attracted to form a hydrogen atom shell around iron atoms, when charged particles are heated up to hot their electrical charges are more diminished than when cold, , the hotter they get the more resistant happens in electrical conductivity
ursiny33
1 / 5 (6) May 25, 2016
The central core mass of these galaxies have trapped alot of heat inside its gravity held negatively charged electron field encompassing the CCM it built from stripping orbiting electrons entering in that super hot zone orbiting the mass, those neutrons and protons enter into a high velocity neutron and proton storm orbiting that mad and thru high velocity kinetic collisions turn those protons high energy positively charged particle to advance to the pole regions of the CCM trapped in the magnetic field vessel of the gravity held field holding heat ,the neutrons are turned into super hot quantum plasma to rain down on the quantum CCM ,when enough hydrogen atoms are taken apart and fill the pole regions with high energy positive particles the CCM will reduce the heat by a particle plasma ejection far into space, returning the mass back into operating temperatures
Enthusiastic Fool
5 / 5 (4) May 25, 2016
This MaNGA study is missing a Kaneda galaxy and a red motorcycle to really settle the science...
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (4) May 25, 2016
Don't really find this particular research as a "discovery".
More like educated guesswork...
"...has discovered a surprisingly common new phenomenon in galaxies, dubbed "red geysers", that [could] explain how the process works.
Researchers [interpret] the red geysers as galaxies hosting low-energy supermassive black holes which drive intense interstellar winds."

Tuxford
1 / 5 (3) May 26, 2016
Galaxies begin their existence as lively and colourful spiral galaxies, full of gas and dust, and actively forming bright new stars.


Absolute Nonsense. Why go on?
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (5) May 26, 2016
Well, @Whyde, the new data makes this the strongest hypothesis of why this plurality of galaxies stops forming stars. Making allowance for typical physorg clickbait, news of there being a strong hypothesis of why a large number of galaxies shut off star formation is interesting news.

Also, using mass digital sky surveys to find this out points the way to further research on the matter. So the means of confirming or denying this hypothesis are almost within our grasp, and it looks like the JWST will make a major contribution in this area, as it was designed to do.

We can't expect to know everything all at once. Patience, my friend.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) May 26, 2016
We can't expect to know everything all at once. Patience, my friend.

I know, I know... But I drink too much coffee to sit around and wait...:-)
Psilly_T
1 / 5 (2) May 26, 2016
umm i mean wtf. all galaxies(most) have these smbh and there is evidence for larger spirals than ours with larger smbh. So this doesn't seem very specific to me? 'it's the winds' but if its the winds when does it wind?!?!?! and why how often?
I agree with whyd as well and it seems like the guess work was spotty at best similar to i dono fortune telling. vague and widely cast but hey i didn't read the paper so theres that.

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