Black hole discoveries are always big news, and this one is no exception. Researchers at the University of Sheffield have found supermassive black holes at the cores of some galaxies belching molecular hydrogen gas in incredible quantities – at times as fast as 1 million kilometers per hour. The implications of the findings have the researchers thinking they may have unlocked the secret to the future evolution of galaxies.
The gas expelled by these supermassive black holes happens to be cold. Cold gas is a key ingredient in the formation of new stars, and thus this outflow of cold gas has a significant impact on how galaxies grow and evolve. Though this has been the theory for some time, science was previously unsure of what was behind the accelerated outflows.
Using the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory in Chile to observe the nearby galaxy IC5063, they observed molecular hydrogen gas moving at alarming speeds. What they found was that the gas outflows are accelerated by energetic jets of electrons that are moving at close to the speed of light. Such jets are propelled by central supermassive black holes found at the center of some galaxies (the Milk Way included).
“Much of the gas in the outflows is in the form of molecular hydrogen, which is fragile in the sense that it is destroyed at relatively low energies. It is extraordinary that the molecular gas can survive being accelerated by jets of electrons moving at close to the speed of light, ” said Professor Clive Tadhunter.
What does this mean for us? Well, in about 5 billion years, our Milky Way galaxy is believed to collide with nearby galaxy Andromeda. The findings (hopefully) instruct as to what will happen at that time: Gas, concentrated in the center of the galaxy due to the collision, will likely be expelled at similarly incredible rates.
What should we do with this information? Nothing (we’ll all be long gone by then).