How black holes change the makeup of entire galaxies

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Black holes have always captured our imagination.

These mysterious cosmic objects are known for their immense gravity that can suck up almost anything, even light!

But did you know that the supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies could also be like cosmic chefs, changing the ingredients that make up their home galaxies?

Yup, new research shows just that!

We already knew that these massive black holes could heat up and push away gas in their home galaxies. This changes the galaxy’s structure, kind of like reshaping dough in a bakery.

But figuring out how they mess with the “chemical recipe” of the galaxy has been really hard. Why? Well, black holes are tiny compared to their galaxies, they’re very far away from us, and often they’re hidden by cosmic dust.

A group of international scientists, led by Toshiki Saito from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and Taku Nakajima at Nagoya University, took on this challenge.

They used a super-advanced telescope called ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) to study Messier 77. This galaxy is 51.4 million light-years away and has an active black hole at its core.

Thanks to ALMA’s sharp vision and a bit of computer wizardry known as machine learning, the researchers could look at the galaxy in stunning detail.

They were able to identify and map where 23 different molecules are in this far-away galaxy. This is the first study that provides an unbiased picture of where all these molecules are hanging out near a supermassive black hole.

So, what did they find? They noticed that certain common molecules, like carbon monoxide (CO), seem to break apart along the path of the energy beams, called “bipolar jets,” that shoot out near the black hole.

At the same time, some rare molecules, like certain forms of HCN and CN (cyanide), start showing up more. This means that the black hole is like a cosmic blender, mixing up the chemicals in its galaxy!

Why is this a big deal? Well, understanding how black holes affect the chemicals in their galaxies adds another piece to the puzzle of understanding how galaxies change over time.

Until now, we thought of black holes mainly as destroyers or gobblers of stars and gas. But now we see they’re more like artists or chefs, changing the chemical makeup of their entire galactic homes.

So the next time you look up at the night sky and think of distant galaxies and black holes, remember that these cosmic giants are doing more than just swallowing stars and gas.

They’re also shaping and flavoring the galaxies they live in, in ways we are just starting to understand!

Their work has been published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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Source: National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.