A correlation between the mass of supermassive black holes and star formation in large galaxies

Centaurus A
Centaurus A

An article published in the journal “Nature” describes a research on the influence of supermassive black holes on star formation in large galaxies. A team of researchers analyzed that feedback mechanism concluding that there’s a correlation between the mass of those black holes and the effect of inhibiting the formation of new stars.

Supermassive black holes are normally present at the center of galaxies and in some cases they heat gas and dust around them so much that they create what is called an active galactic nucleus with strong electromagnetic radiation emissions. The effects on star formation have been the subject of various studies in recent years with apparently contradictory conclusions, as sometimes it seems that they favor the formation of new stars while in other cases they seem to inhibit it.

In September 2017 an article published in the journal “Nature Astronomy” described a research on the relationship between active galactic nuclei and the galaxies that host them. This research also focused on what is called in the jargon AGN feedback (from Active Galactic Nuclei). This new research focused on large galaxies with AGNs such as Centaurus A, shown in an image that combined different wavelengths captured by different telescopes (ESO/WFI (Optical); MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al. (Submillimetre); NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al. (X-ray)).

This new analysis shows a correlation between the mass of a supermassive black hole and the effect of inhibiting star formation in its host galaxy. Other factors related to the activity of an active galactic nucleus are variable because they depend, for example, on its morphology and size, but according to the researchers they are not relevant.

Ignacio Martín-Navarro of the University of California at Santa Cruz, the first author of the article, explained that his team used the mass of supermassive black holes as an indirect measure of the energy introduced into the galaxy by active galactic nuclei. That’s because the growth around them leads to more energetic feedback from the AGNs, which would inhibit star formation more quickly.

The researchers admit that the precise nature of the feedback from the supermassive black hole that inhibits star formation remains uncertain. The research published in September 2017 referred to gas flows between active galactic nuclei and their host galaxies but those researchers too stated that they needed further observations to understand the details.

This new research shows a continuous interaction between the activity of supermassive black holes and star formation during the life of a galaxy. The consequence is an influence on all the generations of stars that are born within it, a really huge influence that explains the strong interest of astronomers and astrophysicists for this phenomenon.

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