Quasar Caught Building Future Home Galaxy

The birth of galaxies is quite a complicated affair, and little is known about whether the supermassive black holes at the center of most galaxies formed first, or if the matter in the galaxy accreted first, and formed the black hole later. Observations of the quasar HE0450-2958, which is situated outside of a galaxy, show the quasar aiding a nearby galaxy in the formation of stars. This provides evidence for the idea that supermassive black holes can ‘build’ their own galaxies.

The quasar HE0450-2958 is an odd entity: normally, supermassive black holes – also known as quasars – form at the center of galaxies. But HE0450-2958 doesn’t appear to have any host galaxy out of which it formed. This was a novel discovery in its own right when it was made back in 2005. Here’s our original story on the quasar, Rogue Supermassive Black Hole Has No Galaxy.

The formation of the quasar still remains a mystery, but current theories suggest that it formed out of cold interstellar gas filaments that accreted over time, or was somehow ejected from its host galaxy by a strong gravitational interaction with another galaxy.

The other oddity about the object is its proximity to a companion galaxy, which it may be aiding to form stars. The companion galaxy lies directly in the sights of one of the quasar’s jets, and is forming stars at a frantic rate. A team of astronomers from France, Germany and Belgium studied the quasar and companion galaxy using the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory. The astronomers were initially looking to find an elusive host galaxy for the quasar.

The phenomenon of ‘naked quasars’ has been reported before, but each time further observations are made, a host galaxy is found for the object. Energy streaming from the quasars can obscure a faint galaxy that is hidden behind dust, so the astronomers used the VLT spectrometer and imager for the mid-infrared (VISIR). Mid-infrared observations readily detect dust clouds. They combined these observations with new images obtained from the Hubble Space Telescope in the near-infrared.A color composite image of the quasar in HE0450-2958 obtained using the VISIR instrument on the Very Large Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope. Image Credit: ESO

Observations of HE0450-2958, which lies 5 billion light years from Earth, confirmed that the quasar is indeed without a host galaxy, and that the energy and matter streaming out of the jets is pointed right at the companion galaxy. This scenario is ramping up star formation in that galaxy: 340 solar masses of stars a year are formed in the galaxy, one-hundred times more than for a typical galaxy in the Universe. The quasar and the galaxy are close enough that they will eventually merge, finally giving the quasar a home.

David Elbaz of the Service d’Astrophysique, who is the lead author of the paper which appeared in Astronomy & Astrophysics, said “The ‘chicken and egg’ question of whether a galaxy or its black hole comes first is one of the most debated subjects in astrophysics today. Our study suggests that supermassive black holes can trigger the formation of stars, thus ‘building’ their own host galaxies. This link could also explain why galaxies hosting larger black holes have more stars.”

‘Quasar feedback’ could be a potential explanation for how some galaxies form, and naturally the study of other systems is needed to confirm whether this scenario is unique, or a common feature in the Universe.

Source: ESO, Astronomy & Astrophysics

24 Replies to “Quasar Caught Building Future Home Galaxy”

  1. Time to look at the impossible? Just wondering..

    The matter from the Black Hole is accreting matter from nowhere after all.
    The companion galaxy is close enough for merging, but what if it”s not a mere coincidence, just a by-product of one of the jetstreams?

    A BH losing leptons, even producing baryons, but not because of Hawking radiation,
    It should suck. But it obviously does not.

  2. I read the abstract. I would think the QSO and the galaxy are gravitationally bound objects, where the black hole gathers material with each passing through of the galaxy.

    The black hole is supermassive, which means that Hawking radiation is negligible. The BH definitely carries an accretion disk and some complex of matter around it. If the BH were isolated in space it would be effectively invisible.

    I liked the final message of the star size comparison vid.


  3. what is the probability that the BH is feeding off from the darkmatter which is supposed to surround every galaxy????

  4. How dark matter feeds black holes is an interesting question. I can imagine as a toy model a spherically symmetric cloud or blob of dark matter in space with a black hole running through it in some type of orbit. If I were to assume the cloud has a constant density of dark matter, then the black hole in this region experiences a force of attraction to the cloud’s center according to an F ~ kx force. The black hole would run around the interior of this cloud according to a harmonic oscillator force. This can be easily demonstrated using Gauss’ law.

    The dark matter will not radiatively respond to the gravitational interaction with the black hole. The black hole would pass through the cloud leaving a vacuum behind it, or something like a tunnel devoid of dark matter. Then over time the black hole would eat away at the cloud and the black hole would grow. Presumably over time the dark matter cloud would become hollowed out. Then the problems to be addressed are whether this could promote the growth of a black hole into a supermassive black hole, and what happens to the cloud of dark matter.

    Cheers LC

  5. Actually two papers reporting the results of new observations are available . Links to both papers and some additional info about the research may be found here: http://www.mpia.de/coevolution/Main/Projects (Btw, the illustration used here is not the best available, see the site linked above or in the two papers recently published, for better, labeled images of HE 0450-2958). The most recent of the two (“Quasar Induced Star Formation: A New Paradigm” by Elbaz et. al.) goes into more detail concerning this new theory.

    Mention is made of a few other systems that possibly exhibit jet induced star formation ( Minkowski’s Object in Abell 194 and 3C 321, among others). Jet induced star formation has also been observed in Cen A, so this mode of star formation is now well documented.

    Lawrence Crowell is quite correct that some material must be present to feed the SMBH, otherwise the QSO would cease to shine, And this is exactly what the new observations have shown. After digitally subtracting the bright light from the OSO, faint wisps of dust and gas are seen surrounding the quasar. The eventual merger of the companion galaxy should supply copious amounts of fuel to the quasar (and at the same time, actually blowing back some of this fuel and quenching star birth in the quasars home galaxy[ aka feedback]).

  6. Dark matter would not produce jets. There has to be luminous matter which has friction or electromagnetic responses to the compression induced by a black hole.


  7. I don’t believe Jon Hanford is claiming Dark Matter is producing jets, simply that the jets may be inducing star formation.

  8. Halton Arp has long held (with supporting observation & measurement) that quasars are ejected from galaxies.

    No need to invoke “black holes”.

    Whatever happened to the idea of “black holes” sucking everything in never to escape?

    Now, they do everything except “leap tall buildings in a single bound.”

    Quasars are ejected from active galaxies via electromagnetic forces, not gravitational forces.

  9. I don’t think the question is so much about dark matter composing the jets, but rather that dark matter was involved in forming a supermassive black hole in the first place. The role of DM with jets is of course unclear. The motion of DM in the presence of a BH might “stir the pot,” so to speak, and induce gravitationally the influx of luminous matter around the BH, which is the source of jets.

    A black hole in a spherically symmetric blob or cloud of DM would move according to a harmonic oscillator force F = -kx. The black hole would generate holes in the DM cloud as the BH would increase its mass incrementally. Gravitationally the DM cloud would collapse over time inducing a larger F = -kx force on the BH, while the mass of the BH increases. This strikes me as an interesting problem to numerically model. It would be interesting to see if this can cause the growth of a black hole faster than expected from luminous matter alone.

    What role this would have with jets is unclear. Maybe the imploding cloud of DM gravitationally pulls luminous matter with it and concentrates more of it around the growing BH.

    As for quasars being ejected from galaxies by electromagnetic forces, I suppose that might be a bit like boogers being ejected from my nose.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  10. The main thrust of this new work is that some galaxies can form by mechanisms other than collisions. How many did so is still to be answered. Only a few other examples are known, so this system may prove important in figuring out the early growth of galaxies.

    I’d have to agree with Lawrence Crowell on the question of dark matters role relative to the jets. The authors of the paper I noted above looked at at bipolar radio jets emitted by the quasar and suggested that one of these jets interacted with a nearby (17 kpc) cloud of molecular gas. They consider radio jets to be a key component in in the formation of galaxies that contain supermassive black holes.

    Concerning the origin/early evolution of the SMBH (what Lawrence Crowell was getting at, I think), it seems the authors favor accretion from cold intergalactic gas filaments. They note that some of the aforementioned filaments and blobs near the quasar may be signs of filamentary accretion. Future searches for such filaments are planned for the area surrounding HE 0450-2958. It would be interesting to map out the dark matter distribution near this object to see what clues it may reveal

    All the papers I’ve come across that discuss the quasar ejection hypothesis, including the present one, discuss purely gravitational means for ejection. Evidence first published in 2005 and confirmed in this work firmly conclude this is not the case. Must be those ‘gravity only’ people again 🙂

  11. Definitely some speculative thoughts. A few actually made me chuckle… yet a couple make me shake my head.

    One thing this information provides evidence for, is the creation of a ‘bar’ of stars which is seen in the center of some galaxies.

    About DM feeding SMBH… who knows? Since nobody knows the composition of DM you cannot say. Likely, anything which has mass, and can be used as a fuel store of energy (which is just about everything), can feed a black hole. So if DM has mass and can create bonds, then it is likely.

    What will be interesting to watch although it will take many years, is this black hole merging with the galaxy. Since it isn’t coming with any stars of its own, it will make mapping and tracking the affects of the black hole on the galaxy a lot easier, without having to take into account companion stars.

  12. Getting the SMBHs is tough. Material interacting with a BH is most likely to just either orbit the BH or be gravitationally deflected and be removed from the vincinity of the BH. We might compare this to the scattering of one particle off another with a 1/r potential and some impact parameter b. So for such material you must have friction that reduces its energy and eventuall brings it into the BH. Yet in that case the friction can heat a lot of material up and ultimately remove it from the BH. Only a fraction of that material makes its way into the BH, so the BH will grow, but not rapidly.

    So how did these thundering huge multi-million solar mass BHs get established early in the reionization period of the universe?


  13. As I said already on other occasions, there has been some research in the field of self-gravitating accretion disk around growing SMBHs.

    I just searched for some papers and found those two (the latter one is a talk):


  14. Just what do you consider ‘friction’? There are many things which can create heat. The theory of spaghettification will cause heat, since you will obviously be breaking molecular bonds, which release energy. You could say x-rays cause friction due to the fact they scoot right throgh most everything, occaisionlly bumping into something.

    To say there is friction because things are sliding against one another because they are rubbing against each other in a vortex doesn’t really fly with me. Once something hits the event horizon, nobody knows how matter enters a black hole. Is it pulled straight in, or does it swirl around in a vortex? If matter is being pulled apart, then there isn’t any friction between the atoms…. although there would be a lot of heat.
    Need to define what you consider friction, and what is causing it

  15. Accretion disks are composed of matter being violently whorled around and collisional processes amount to a type of friction. It is similar to why a rocket plume generates lots of sound — hot gas cimpacting cooler air.

    This does involve material outside the event horizon. Once something crosses the event horizon it is gone for good.


  16. Hannes:

    Why is there no visible inflow of matter to any BH in any taken image? If so, please show. I can’t find it.

    As Lawrence B. Crowell stated above, accretion disks are known to exist by some indirect means, such as the Doppler effect seen in this APOD image of gas rapidly increasing to nearly 240 miles per second within 26 light years of the center of the galaxy M84, in the Virgo Cluster about 50 million light years away. The image shows that radiation from approaching gas, shifted to blue wavelengths left of the centerline, is suddenly red-shifted to the right of center indicating a rapidly rotating disk of material near the galactic nucleus. The resulting sharp S-shape is effectively the signature of a black hole estimated to contain at least 300 million solar masses.

  17. If someone is really sure about contemporary science models then please try to explain the following.

    Why is there no visible inflow of matter to any BH in any taken image? If so, please show. I can’t find it.

    Accretion is efficient to 10-15% of the infalling matter into BH’s, according to current mod
    Galaxy’s like 3c438 have an extremely heavy (radio-visible) outflow. But not any visible inflow, which should be 7 to 10 times more intensive.It should show up, but it does not.
    In the case of the galaxy 3c438 for instance, inflow should show up, producing an energy production equivalent to swallowing 150 star’s like our sun, every year. There is no single shred of evidence of any conversion.

  18. Black holes are very small relative to their mass. The resolution of current telescopes is far below what would be required to actually image an accretion disk. However, some of the super-scopes proposed might be able to do this. Accretion disk are however known to exist by some indirect means. The energy production rates support the accretion disk theory. Further, fluctuations in disks are observed to exst. These propagate around the disk at a rate which is observable by delay propagation physics. The EM radiation produced by the disk exhibits scattering and attenuation consistent with a localized disk. So it is inferred these disks are localized around a black hole.

    Cheers LC

  19. We may be looking at images of the inner accretion disk of Sgr A* within the next few years. Plans for imaging the accretion disk down to the event horizon in submillimeter wavelengths were discussed in a recent paper: http://arxiv.org/abs/0906.3899 . This would be a monumental achievement for astronomy, much like the discovery of the first exoplanets. Probably more questions will be raised than answered, but that’s how science works.

    Btw, the paper gives a brief overview of accretion models for black holes in Section 2.4.

  20. @ Jon Hanford:

    At least, we would finally prove without a doubt the existence of black holes. This is a task I’d really liked to be accomplished.

    Probably more questions will be raised than answered, […]

    Thank god, it works like that. Running out of questions would be the last thing science wants to encounter. (hm. Literally, that is correct. 😀 )

  21. Thanks for the picture IVAN3MAN, but there is nothing conclusive about the data from STIS.

    M84 shows indeed many features of rotational gas. The instruments measured the increasing velocity of a disk of gas ORBITING the black hole. There is no measurement of inflow.

    Chandra showed that M84 has 4 “bubbles”, from which there is dissipating energy in waves.
    These waves tend to be concentrated near the center of M84 and in the direction perpendicular to the bubbles outflow. The waves detach directly from the AGN-inflated cavities.

    So there is confirmed outflow, and orbiting gas. But no picture showing inflow.

  22. @ Hannes:

    As said before, this is a matter of resolution. And, although our telescopes are quite fancy now, their resolution is still too low to actually get a picture of an accretion disk.

    Still: The physical basics are well known. The accretion model says that the plasma will circle faster as closer it is to the black hole. The next thing is that it will become fairly hot and will radiate far in the X-ray regime. Another point is: In order to get an inflow the plasma must get rid of its angular momentum. This can be done by friction (heat), twisted magnetic fields and outflows (uncollimated, or collimated; the latter would be jets).

    This is the picture, and all of its features are seen in AGN and on other occasions.
    I should note that many details are still a matter of strong research. E.g., the formation and collimation of jets is still quite unknown. Also how they stay so narrow for such long distances (Mpc scales!), is not yet fully understood!

    But maybe we can resolve Sgr A* in the next few years! THAT would be awesome!

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