Heart of the ‘Squid Galaxy’ reveals how supermassive black holes shape galactic chemistry

By | September 19, 2023

New research has revealed how supermassive black holes lurking at the hearts of large galaxies influence the distribution of chemicals throughout their galactic locations.

Scientists have understood this for a long time supermassive black holes they have a huge influence on the galaxies around them. In particular, as these black holes feed on the matter around them, they form electromagnetic emissions of radiation bright enough to eclipse the combined light of every star in their home galaxy. This active feeding process also causes jets of matter to explode outward from the black hole in the vicinity of the black hole light speed.

Combined, these phenomena consider the galactic heart to be an active galactic nucleus (AGN) and heat gas and dust, as well as push star-forming matter away from the region, which can limit star birth and, therefore, inhibit galaxy growth itself. However, scientists do not understand as clearly how the distribution of chemicals in galaxies is affected by AGNs and their supermassive bodies. black hole engines.

The new research was conducted by a team of astronomers who used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to observe the supermassive AGN of the galaxy NGC 1068, also known as Messier 77 (M77) or simply, the “Squid Galaxy.” In particular, the researchers were interested in analyzing the distribution of chemicals around the luminous heart of this bar spiral galaxylocated 51.4 light years far from Earthin the constellation Class. THE black hole associated with this AGN is enveloped by a thick ring of dust called the circumnuclear disk and surrounded by a region of intense star birth called star explosion ring.

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“Recently, an important and interesting question about galaxies has been the study of energy sources in active galaxies, focusing in particular on darkened galactic nuclei, which are the central engines of the galactic starburst or AGN,” the team responsible for the study writes in an article research. article published in the Astrophysics Journal. ‘Observations that reveal energy sources can provide key insights into the evolution of galaxies. The chemistry-based approach, using linear surveys in galaxies, is an effective way to solve this problem.’

Thanks to ALMA’s impressive spatial resolution capability and the use of a new machine learning technique, the team managed to map the distribution of 23 molecules present in the galaxy.

A spiral galaxy, Messier 77, mostly pink, and close-up view of its active center, shown in orange.

A spiral galaxy, Messier 77, mostly pink, and close-up view of its active center, shown in orange.

This is possible because chemical elements and compounds absorb light at characteristic wavelengths, so by observing light shining through gas and dust, scientists can see “lines,” or gaps, where the light has been absorbed. This shows the chemical composition of the dust and gas.

In particular, the team observed that the hydrogen cyanide isotopes were confined to the central region of the AGN, while the cyanide radicals were also localized in the active center of the galaxy but were also expelled outwards, in jets that extended from both poles of the supermassive black hole.

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The researchers also noticed that, unlike these two molecules, carbon monoxide isotopes – common in galaxies – stayed away from the central region.

For the team, this is clear evidence that supermassive black holes influence not only the large-scale structure of galaxies but also their chemical composition. The research also held some surprises for researchers, as the team discovered that high energy X-ray from the AGN had less impact on chemical distribution than theorized.

“The abundance of cyanide in the circumnuclear disk is significantly lower than the value expected from model calculations in the region affected by strong radiation,” the authors concluded. “The strong X-ray irradiation predicted by AGN has relatively less impact on molecular abundance in the circumnuclear disk than mechanical feedback.”

An article on this research was published September 14 in The Astrophysical Journal

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