Winds emitting from distant black hole have the energy of a trillion suns

Astronomers have observed winds that carry enough energy to stop galaxies from producing stars.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Feb 19, 2015
Astronomers have observed a massive wind emanating from a supermassive black hole. The winds are so strong, in fact, that they can stop the galaxy surrounding the black hole from producing stars.

NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and ESA's (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton telescope observed the winds for the first time and researchers concluded that the winds could halt star production.

"We know black holes in the centers of galaxies can feed on matter, and this process can produce winds. This is thought to regulate the growth of the galaxies," said Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. "Knowing the speed, shape and size of the winds, we can now figure out how powerful they are."

The study found that PDS 456, a quasar almost 2 billion light years from Earth, was emitting winds that carry more energy in a single second than the energy created by a trillion suns.

"Now we know quasar winds significantly contribute to mass loss in a galaxy, driving out its supply of gas, which is fuel for star formation," said the study's lead author Emanuele Nardini of Keele University.

Seeing the winds of a quasar 2 billion light years away is, quite literally, a glimpse into the universe's chaotic past.

"For an astronomer, studying PDS 456 is like a paleontologist being given a living dinosaur to study,' said study co-author Daniel Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We are able to investigate the physics of these important systems with a level of detail not possible for those found at more typical distances, during the 'Age of Quasars."

In addition to the important scientific discovery, the study is being held up as an excellent example of what astronomers and their respective programs can achieve through collaboration.

"This is a great example of the synergy between XMM-Newton and NuSTAR,' said Norbert Schartel, XMM-Newton project scientist at ESA. 'The complementarity of these two X-ray observatories is enabling us to unveil previously hidden details about the powerful side of the universe."

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