The universe is basically a complex and uncaring mechanism with no sense of good or evil.
But it’s hard not to feel there’s something a little bit wicked about a supermassive black hole that’s been observed ‘killing’ a rare and beautiful ‘jellyfish galaxy’ called JO201.
The ‘exotic’ galaxy is locked in a doomed struggle with its dark tormentor, which sits at the centre of another cluster called Abell 85 and is slowly stripping away the system’s gas.
This leeching slows the formation of new stars, therefore ‘effectively “killing”‘ JO201.
Jellyfish galaxies are strange and unusual systems which form whilst ploughing through the core of another galaxy at supersonic speeds.
Their gas is torn away as they zoom through the galactic core due to a process called ‘ram-pressure stripping’ which leaves extended ‘tentacles’ dragging along behind them.
JO201 was originally a large spiral galaxy and has been diving through the gigantic cluster Abell 85 at supersonic speeds for roughly one billion years.
Its tentacles are estimated to trail 94 kiloparsecs behind JO201 – which is about three times the diameter of our Milky Way.
‘A galaxy sustains itself by constantly forming new stars from gas, so understanding how gas flows into and out of a galaxy helps us learn how it evolves,’ said Callum Bellhouse of the University of Birmingham.
‘The example of JO201 shows how the balance tips towards then away from star-formation as it plunges through the galaxy cluster and faces increasingly extreme stripping of its gas.’
At first, JO201’s transformation into a jellyfish galaxy caused a brief increase in star formation due to the ram-pressure stripping process.
‘Compressed clouds of gas have collapsed and formed a ring of stars in the disk of the galaxy,’ the university wrote.
‘Dense knots in tentacles have condensed like rainclouds to begin forming new stars in the galaxy’s wake.’
However, over the past few hundred million years, the black hole appears to have ripped away so much gas that there is now a large void around the centre of the galaxy’s disc.
The team ‘believes that the ram-pressure stripping may have funnelled gas into the central parts of the galaxy, where it has provoked the black hole into blasting out material and creating a shock-wave that has left a cavity behind’.
‘An important balancing act occurs between processes which either boost or diminish the star formation rate in jellyfish galaxies,’ Bellhouse added.
‘In the case of JO201, the central black hole becomes excited by the ram-pressure stripping and starts to throw out gas. This means that the galaxy is being hollowed out from the inside, as well as torn away from the outside.’
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