Black Holes Could Provide the Seeds of Life

Galaxy NGC 4051 with its black hole. Image credit: Credit: George Seitz/Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSFYou’ve heard it all before. Black holes pull with a gravity so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape. You would think that black holes are the place where everything goes to die, but it might be possible that black holes are the source of life as well.

Astronomers now suspect that there’s a supermassive black hole lurking at the heart of most galaxies in the Universe. These black monsters do crush any matter that falls in, but they’re surrounded by a halo of other material waiting to fall in – like water backing up in a drain. This backup releases a tremendous amount of energy. And so, some material can get so hot and energetic that it escapes the clutches of the black hole.

Supermassive black holes are known to produce powerful hot winds that stream across the galaxy, and this gas might be very special. A recent calculation by researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics calculated that 2-5% of this material is ejected in this way. Carbon and oxygen atoms are propelled out at high speeds – as fast as 6.5 million km per hour (4 million miles an hour).

And so, star-forming nebulae comprised of mostly hydrogen and helium could receive a spray of heavier oxygen and carbon atoms from a supermassive black hole, thousands of light-years away. These atoms make up the basic building blocks of all life here on Earth.

Original Source: CfA News Release