Those two purple lobes in the figure-eight shape are balloons of gamma ray energy that reach out 25,000 light years above and below the plane of the galaxy. Yet these huge structures have remained hidden from astronomers, until now.
Using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope, Doug Finkbeiner and colleagues detected the bubbles after they managed to remove from their images an obstructing “fog” of gamma rays between here and there.
Researchers do not yet know what produced the bubbles, but the fact that they appear to have relatively sharp edges suggests that they were produced in a single event. Finkbeiner said that would have required the rapid release of energy equivalent to about 100,000 supernovae, or exploding stars. One possibility is that there was a burst of star formation in the center of the galaxy producing massive, short-lived stars that exploded and ejected a great deal of gas and dust over a few million years. [Los Angeles Times]
If you want to make a supermassive black hole quickly, collide young, massive proto-galaxies. After running the numbers on a supercomputer, that’s what researchers have recently concluded. Their simulation shows that a collision between massive gas clouds could make a black hole “from scratch” in a relatively short time.
Supermassive black hole truly are super massive–possibly billions of times the mass of our sun. They also appear to be super old; some estimates say they formed less than a billion years after the Big Bang. Thus the puzzle, how do you get so big so quickly?
The paper which appeared online yesterday in Nature (with associated letter) modeled the collision of two gas clouds that formed into a unstable gas disk, which channeled gas into its center. Eventually this dense center collapsed in on itself to make the black hole king. (See simulations of the proto-galaxies colliding, above.)
“It has been perplexing how such black holes with masses billions of times the mass of the sun could exist so early in the history of the universe,” astronomer Julie Comerford of University of California Berkeley, who was not involved in the study, wrote in an e-mail to Wired.com. “These simulations are an important advance in understanding how those supermassive black holes were built up so quickly.” [Wired]