in the constellation Cetus
Unknown 0 times the mass of the Sun
Black holes are known as engines of destruction. They grow larger by gobbling up the surrounding stars and clouds of gas and dust. But in some cases, black holes may also be engines of creation: They may trigger the birth of new stars.
Astronomers have found evidence of this in NGC 541, a galaxy that is more than 200 million light-years away in the constellation Cetus.
A supermassive black hole appears to reside at the center of the galaxy. Astronomers deduce its presence from strong 'jets" of material that is squirting away from the center of the galaxy. The jets probably comes from an accretion disk around the black hole. As material in the disk spirals toward the black hole, powerful magnetic fields channel some of it back into space at close to the speed of light, forming the long jets of electrically charged particles. Although this reveals the black hole's presence, it does not provide many details about the black hole's size or mass.
Using Hubble Space Telescope, the Very Large Array (VLA) radio antenna in New Mexico, and the giant Keck telescopes in Hawaii, astronomers Steve Croft and Wil van Bruege of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory traced the path of one of the jets, and found that it runs into a 10 million-year-old stellar nursery known as Minkowski's Object. This clump of about 20 million stars -- most of which formed about 7.5 million years ago -- is about 50,000 light-years from the center of NGC 541.
The astronomers suggested that as the jet rammed into a big cloud of hydrogen gas, they caused the cloud to cool down. That allowed it to collapse under its own gravitational pull. The cloud split into smaller clumps of gas, and many of those clumps became new stars. In all, they found that Minkowski's Object is giving birth to about one new star every two years.
Croft and van Bruege have found that jets from supermassive black holes in the cores of several other galaxies found in the same cluster as NGC 541 also appear to be helping give birth to new stars as they, too, intersect interstellar gas clouds.
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This document was last modified: March 15, 2012.