Exploding Supernovae 'Clean Up' Galaxies After Black Hole Outbursts

First Posted: May 27, 2015 08:07 AM EDT

Supernovas may actually help "clean" galaxies. Scientists have found that the massive explosions that mark the end of a star's life work with supermassive black holes to sweep gas out of a galaxy's star-forming factory.

In this latest study, the researchers discovered that black holes located at the cores of galaxies launch fountains of charged particles, which can stir up gas throughout the galaxy and temporarily interrupt star formation. Unless something intervenes, though, the gas will cool and star forming stars again.

"Our previous research had shown that black-hole outbursts can limit star formation in massive galaxies, but they can't completely shut it off," said Mark Voit, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Something else needs to keep sweeping out the gas that dying stars continually dump into a galaxy, and supernova sweeping appears to work perfectly for that."

In fact, the researchers found that one mega-outburst from a galaxy's black hole could heat the gas surrounding the galaxy enough to let supernovas take over and mop up the mess. This may explain why some massive galaxies stopped forming stars billions of years ago.

The findings don't only reveal a bit more about black holes and supernovae, but also tell researchers a bit more about galaxy evolution. This, in turn, may reveal why some galaxies continue to produce stars while others become barren over time.

The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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