KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Like a cosmic water fountain, a supermassive black hole is cycling gas through a galaxy-sized pump. The black hole powers jets that blast gas over 30,000 light-years away from the galaxy only to rain back down on a reservoir from which the black hole feeds. Yale University astronomer Grant Tremblay described this phenomenon January 6 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
The fountain sits at the heart of a galaxy within the Abell 2597 cluster, a galactic gathering over 1 billion light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. Observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile reveal that the fountain billows into plumes with the mass of about 1 billion suns. The force of the jets appear to trigger the formation of new stars within these plumes. Most of the ejected gas falls back down onto the central region of the galaxy and then slowly trickles back toward the black hole to start the loop again.
This galactic pump might help regulate star formation throughout the galaxy. The fountain can continually stir up gas and prevent much of it from creating stellar nurseries.