Finding answers at a galactic fountain

Researchers have detected a galaxy-scale fountain of cold molecular gas that is powered by a massive black hole, a discovery that offers a more complete understanding of the evolution of galaxies.

The “galactic fountain” is one billion light years from Earth, in a nearby galaxy cluster known as Abell 2597. There, cold gas falls toward the black hole, igniting it and causing it to launch fast-moving jets of incandescent plasma into the cosmic void. Because the plasma can’t evade the galaxy’s gravity, it eventually cools, slows down, and rains back down on the black hole — where the cycle starts again.

Composite image of the Abell 2597 galaxy cluster showing the fountain-like flow of gas powered by the supermassive black hole in
Composite image of the Abell 2597 galaxy cluster showing the fountain-like flow of gas powered by the supermassive black hole in the central galaxy. (Credit: ALMA [ESO/NAOJ/NRAO], Tremblay et al.; NRAO/AUI/NSF, B. Saxton; NASA/Chandra; ESO/VLT)

The research appears in The Astrophysical Journal. The study’s lead author is former Yale researcher Grant Tremblay, who is now at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Co-authors from Yale are Dominic Eggerman, Nathaniel Kerman, Meredith Powell, and Meg Urry, the Israel Munson Professor of Physics and Astronomy.

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Jim Shelton: james.shelton@yale.edu, 203-361-8332