The public opinion of black holes might be one of destruction and mind-bending physics but, in the words of Marie Machachek, “this shows that black holes can create, not just destroy”. Machachek co-authored a study revealed last week which showed two huge cosmic shockwaves emerging from a supermassive black hole.
The images, captured by the Chandra Space Telescope, demonstrate a process called feedback whereby an exchange of material shapes the galaxy’s evolution. The black hole is in galaxy NGC 5195 only 26 million light years away, making it one of the closest black holes to us. So how do the researchers know this is a burp and not a giant bite? Viewed from an optical telescope, cooler hydrogen gas can be seen just outside of the X-ray waves, suggesting material was blasted outwards from the black hole. This effect is known as ‘snow ploughing’, which the astronomers say in this case “ploughed up enough material to trigger the formation of new stars”.
In some ways, this is old news. Jones dubbed the X-ray arcs “fossils” of two blasts. The research team estimates that the outer arc took three to six million years for the outer arc to reach its current position.
“It is common for big black holes to expel gas outward,” admitted Schlegel, “but rare to have such a close, resolved view of these events.”
The 15 year old Chandra X-ray Observatory, in orbit around Earth, has continued well past its intended five year lifetime. It has previously captured images of a new type of black hole, as well as the first X-ray emissions from the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.