Galaxy-scale fountain seen in full glory

November 6, 2018, National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Composite image of the Abell 2597 galaxy cluster showing the fountain-like flow of gas powered by the supermassive black hole in the central galaxy. The yellow is ALMA data of the cold gas. The red is data from the Very Large Telescope showing the hot hydrogen gas in the same region. The extend purple is the extended hot, ionized gas as imaged by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Tremblay et al.; NRAO/AUI/NSF, B. Saxton; NASA/Chandra; ESO/VLT

A billion light-years from Earth lies one of the universe's most massive structures, a giant elliptical galaxy surrounded by a sprawling cluster of other galaxies known as Abell 2597. At the core of the central galaxy, a supermassive black hole is powering the cosmic equivalent of a monumental fountain, drawing in vast stores of cold molecular gas and spraying them back out again in an ongoing cycle.

Astronomers have long theorized that fountains such as this continually recirculate a galaxy's star-forming fuel. New Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observations of Abell 2597 show the first clear and compelling evidence for the simultaneous infalling and outflow of gas driven by a supermassive black hole. The researchers report their observations in the latest issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

"The at the center of this giant galaxy acts like a mechanical 'pump' in a water fountain," said Grant Tremblay, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and lead author on the paper. "This is one of the first systems in which we find clear evidence for both cold molecular gas inflow toward the black hole and outflow or uplift from the jets that the black hole launches."

According to the researchers, this entire system operates via a self-regulating feedback loop. The infalling material provides power for the fountain as it "drains" toward the central black hole, like water entering the pump of a fountain. This infalling gas then causes the black hole to ignite with activity, launching high-velocity jets of super-heated material that shoot out of the galaxy. As it travels, this material pushes out clumps and streamers of gas into the galaxy's expansive halo, where it eventually rains back in on the black hole, triggering the entire process anew.

Artist impression of Abell 2597 showing the central supermassive black hole expelling cold, molecular gas -- like the pump of a giant galactic fountain. Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF; D. Berry

In total, about three billion solar masses of molecular gas is part of this fountain, forming a filamentary nebula that spans the innermost 100,000 light-years of the galaxy.

In an earlier study by the same authors published in the journal Nature, the researchers were able to verify the interconnection between the black hole and the galactic fountain by observing the region across a range of wavelengths, or portions of the spectrum. By studying the location and motion of molecules of carbon monoxide (CO) with ALMA, which shine brightly in millimeter-wavelength light, the researchers could measure the motion of the gas as it falls in toward the black hole.

Earlier data from the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) revealed warm, ionized gas being expelled from the galaxy—essentially the plume of the fountain. The new ALMA observations found clumps of cold, molecular gas in precisely the same locations as the warm gas seen in the earlier observations.

ALMA image of cold molecular gas in Abell 2597. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), G. Tremblay et al.
"The unique aspect here is a very detailed coupled analysis of the source using data from ALMA and the MUSE instrument. The two facilities make for an incredibly powerful combination," said Tremblay. "ALMA revealed the distribution and motions of the cold molecular gas clouds, and MUSE did the same for the warm ionized gas."

The ALMA and MUSE data were combined with a new, ultra-deep observation of the cluster by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, revealing the hot phase of this fountain in exquisite detail, noted the researchers.

Animation of the MUSE H-alpha data showing the different velocities of material in the "galactic fountain." Credit: ESO; G. Tremblay et al.

The observations also very convincingly support the hypothesis that the warm ionized and cold molecular nebulas are one-in-the-same, with the warm ionized gas merely being the "shell" around the cold molecular cores that churn within this galaxy-scale fountain.

This multiwavelength approach offers an uncommonly complete picture of this system. "It's like observing the rain cloud, rain, and puddle all at the same time," noted Tremblay. While this is just one observation of one galaxy, the astronomers speculate that they may be observing a process that is common in and fundamental to their evolution.

Explore further: Image: Cloudlets swarm around our local supermassive black hole

More information: G. R. Tremblay et al, A Galaxy-scale Fountain of Cold Molecular Gas Pumped by a Black Hole, The Astrophysical Journal (2018). DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/aad6dd

Related Stories

Astrophysicists probe theory of black-hole accretion

June 22, 2016

Utilizing the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), one of the most powerful telescopes in the world, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) astrophysicist Dr. Tracy Clarke and an international team of researchers ...

Recommended for you

Gravitational waves from a merged hyper-massive neutron star

November 14, 2018

For the first time astronomers have detected gravitational waves from a merged, hyper-massive neutron star. The scientists, Maurice van Putten of Sejong University in South Korea, and Massimo della Valle of the Osservatorio ...

The dance of the small galaxies that surround the Milky Way

November 14, 2018

An international team led by researchers from the IAC used data from the ESA satellite Gaia to measure the motion of 39 dwarf galaxies. This data gives information on the dynamics of these galaxies, their histories and their ...

Galaxies like Russian dolls

November 13, 2018

Jairo Méndez Abreu and Adriana de Lorenzo-Cáceres, researchers at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), have discovered a peanut-shaped structure in the inner bar of a double-barred galaxy close to the Milky ...

Giant flare detected on a pre-main sequence M star

November 13, 2018

Using the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), astronomers have identified an energetic flare displaying quasi-periodic pulsations on the pre-main sequence M star NGTS J121939.5-355557. The newly detected flare is one of ...

5 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RNP
5 / 5 (11) Nov 06, 2018
An open access copy of the paper here; https://arxiv.org...0473.pdf

Take a look, because Figure 1 shows some particularly interesting images which demonstrate the advantages of multiwavelength studies.
Tuxford
1.4 / 5 (9) Nov 06, 2018
At the core of the central galaxy, a supermassive black hole is powering the cosmic equivalent of a monumental fountain, drawing in vast stores of cold molecular gas and spraying them back out again in an ongoing cycle.

But where is the origin of this massive quantity of gas, if not the central core itself? A massive hint is:
a giant elliptical galaxy surrounded by a sprawling cluster of other galaxies known as Abell 2597

The fact that the most massive galaxy is the one doing the most spewing, also supports LaViolette's Continuous Creation model, where the more massive and therefore active core ejects more new matter therefrom, thereby spawning the surrounding daughter galaxies.

Yes, merger maniacs can stretch their explanation to fit somehow, but it is not the most simple direct explanation to fit this common variety of observations.

See

https://phys.org/...tml#nRlv
jonesdave
3.9 / 5 (7) Nov 06, 2018
also supports LaViolette's Continuous Creation model,


LaViolette is a certifiable loon.
valeriy_polulyakh
3.2 / 5 (5) Nov 06, 2018
Outflows are ubiquitous in astrophysics. Despite different sizes, velocity and amount of transported energy, luminosity and degree of collimation, they have obvious morphological similarities. However, what is important for us, there is the picture of the outflows from everywhere and none of inflows into somewhere. That is an obvious asymmetry.
https://www.acade...and_Jets
https://www.acade...nd_Winds
Buddyroe
not rated yet Nov 07, 2018
Yeah the continuum recycling machine brought to bye...The Quasar and the Blackhole. Remember that absolute nothing is not logical!

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.