Supermassive black hole aids star formation in the Phoenix Cluster

X-ray and optical data has revealed something of a rarity: a supermassive black hole cooling cosmic gas and boosting star formation.

Hot gas in the Phoenix Cluster. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/M.McDonald et al; Radio: NRAO/VLA; Optical: NASA/STScI

Supermassive black holes found at the centre of galaxies normally stifle star formation, keeping gases too warm for stars to form.

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But a weakened black hole in the centre of the Phoenix Cluster, in the southern hemisphere constellation of Phoenix, is believed to be not just allowing but boosting star formation at the cluster’s heart – the first clear indication that black holes can enhance cooling.

This image is a composite using data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Karl Jansky Very Large Array.

X-ray data from Chandra shows hot gas in purple, while optical data from Hubble reveals cooler gas filaments at the centre.

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Observatories Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, Karl Jansky Very Large Array

Release date 18 November 2019

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Credit X-ray: NASA/CXC/MIT/M.McDonald et al; Radio: NRAO/VLA; Optical: NASA/STScI