Galaxy-scale fountain seen in full glory | 11/9/2018 | EarthSky
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Composite image of the Abell 2597 galaxy cluster showing the fountain-like flow of gas powered by the supermassive black hole in the central galaxy. Image via NRAO.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) released this new image on November 6, 2018. It’s a composite image of a giant elliptical galaxy – surrounded by a sprawling cluster of other galaxies – known as Abell 2597. The yellow parts of the image come from observations made by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and show a relatively cold gas. The red is data from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) showing hot hydrogen gas in the same region. The purple shows extended hot, ionized gas as imaged by Chandra X-ray Observatory.

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This vast structure is a billion light-years from Earth. It’s one of our universe’s most massive structures. At the core of Abell 2597, NRAO said:

Hole - Equivalent - Fountain - Stores - Molecular

… a supermassive black hole is powering the cosmic equivalent of a monumental fountain, drawing in vast stores of cold molecular gas and spraying them back out again in an ongoing cycle.

Astronomers have long theorized that fountains such as this continually recirculate a galaxy’s star-forming fuel. But new data from ALMA – based on observations of Abell 2597 – show the first clear and compelling evidence for the simultaneous infalling and outflow of gas driven by a supermassive black hole. The researchers reported their observations in the peer-reviewed Astrophysical Journal.

Artist - Concept - Abell - Hole - Gas

Artist’s concept of Abell 2597 showing the central supermassive black hole expelling cold, molecular gas – like the pump of a giant galactic fountain. Image via NRAO/AUI/NSF; D. Berry.

Astrophysicist Grant Tremblay at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is lead author on the new paper. He said in a statement:

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The supermassive black hole at the center of this...
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