Ring of star formation forms around galactic supermassive black hole

The processes occurring around a supermassive black hole have produced a ringed eruption of star formation stretching 5,000 lightyears across.

45 million lightyears from Earth lies NGC 1097, a spiral galaxy in the constellation of Fornax with a beautiful star-bursting nuclear ring surrounding it. This image was captured using the MUSE instrument on the Very Large Telescope operated by the European Souther Observatory in Chile's Atacama Desert. Credit: ESO/TIMER Survey

45 million lightyears from Earth lies NGC 1097, a spiral galaxy in the constellation of Fornax with a beautiful star-bursting nuclear ring surrounding it.

Advertisement

This ring is produced by accelerated bursts of star formation around the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy.

Astronomers now think that most galaxies have a supermassive black hole at their centre, and that they could play a large role in the formation and evolution of the host galaxy over time.

Our own galaxy the Milky Way is no exception: it also has a supermassive black hole at its centre, although astronomers don’t yet know where the nearest black hole to Earth is.

These supermassive black holes are responsible for the bright core we see at the centre of many galaxies.

Black holes have a representation of being cosmic vacuum cleaners, sucking up everything that comes too close, but as material falls into black holes, it spirals inwards and forms a surrounding disc.

This accretion disc heats up due to gravitational and frictional forces and emits light as a result.

Galaxies are illuminated by the black holes at their centres. Credit: ClaudioVentrella / Getty Images
Galaxies are illuminated by the black holes at their centres. Artist’s impression. Credit: ClaudioVentrella / Getty Images

The ring seen in this new image of NGC 1097 has formed as a result of these processes at work.

Cosmic dust, gas and debris from the galaxy are falling into the supermassive black hole, heating up surrounding matter, forming an accretion disc and emitting bursts of energy into the nearby region.

This has generated the formation of the star-bursting ring seen here in pink and purple.

The ring is about 5,000 lightyears across, which might sound huge, but is actually rather small in cosmic terms. The galaxy itself extends tens of thousands of lightyears from the centre.

This image was captured using the MUSE instrument on the Very Large Telescope operated by the European Southern Observatory in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

Image stats

Release date 11 January 2021

Observatory Very Large Telescope

Advertisement

Credit ESO/TIMER survey