In the universe, the places with the most extreme, destructive conditions can sometimes spawn something new.
A group of European astronomers have spotted new stars flaring to life inside the cosmic wind blasts expelled by a supermassive black hole. The black hole sits at the center of two merging galaxies 600 million light-years away, according to a study published Monday in Nature. The astronomers say this is the first clear evidence of star formation inside this kind of environment, previously suspected to be good for breeding stars.
The findings come from the aptly named Very Large Telescope, a ground-based telescope located in northern Chile and run by the European Southern Observatory. Searching for young stars, the astronomers trained the telescope’s instruments on a collision between two distant galaxies, known together as IRAS F23128-5919. A supermassive black hole sits at the center of the pair’s southern galaxy, doing what black holes do best: Gobbling up matter, heating up surrounding areas, and spewing out gas in powerful, dense blasts. The Very Large Telescope’s sensitive instruments detected that nearby, cooler gas clouds were illuminated, a phenomenon that results from the radiation from hot, young stars. This suggested, the astronomers say, that the black hole’s outflows housed an infant stellar population.