According to the scientists who observed the galaxy-scale fountain in all of its full glory, the entire system operates like a self-regulating feedback loop. This means that the infalling material provides power for the “fountain” as it drains toward the central supermassive black hole. This is similar to water entering the pump of a familiar fountain. The gas swirling inward causes the black hole to furiously light up with fiery activity, and as a result it shoots high velocity jets of super-heated material shrieking out of the galaxy. As it flees through space, the material pushes out clumps and streamers of gas into the galaxy’s expansive halo, where it eventually rains back on the black hole–and the entire process begins anew.
In a previous study conducted by the same team of astronomers, published in the journal Nature in 2016, the scientists were able to verify the relationship between the supermassive beast and the enormous fountain. They accomplished this feat by observing the region across a range of electromagnetic wavelengths, or portions of the spectrum. By determining the motion and location of molecules of carbon monoxide with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA)–which shine brilliantly at millimeter wavelength light–the astronomers were able to measure the motion of the gas as it tumbled inward toward the waiting black hole. ALMA is an astronomical interferometer located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, which observes electromagnetic radiation at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths.
Earlier data that had been obtained from the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) Very Large Telescope (VLT) revealed warm ionized gas being expelled from the galaxy–which was essentially the fountain’s plume. The more recent ALMA observations revealed cold clumps of molecular gas in exactly the same locations as the warm gas observed in earlier studies.
“The unique aspect here is a very detailed coupled analysis of the source using data from ALMA and the MUSE instrument. The two facilities make for an incredibly powerful combination. ALMA revealed the distribution and motions of the cold molecular gas clouds, and MUSE did the same for the warm ionized gas,” Dr. Tremblay explained in the November 6, 2018 NRAO Press Release.
The ALMA and MUSE data were then combined with a new, ultra-deep observation of the cluster using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, revealing the hot phase of the enormous fountain in great detail.
The new observations also greatly strengthen the hypothesis that the warm ionized and cold molecular nebulas are one-and-the-same, with the warm ionized gas simply being the “shell” surrounding the cold molecular cores that churn within this immense, galaxy-scale fountain.
This multiwavelength approach provides an admirably complete picture of this system. As Dr. Tremblay commented in the November 6, 2018 NRAO Press Release, “It’s like observing the rain cloud, rain, and puddle all at the same time.”
While this research constitutes only one observation of a single lone galaxy, the astronomers speculate that they may be observing a process that is common in galaxies and fundamental to their mysterious evolution. mkvzone movie download