Massachusetts Institute of Technology | 2015 Mar 04
A handful of new stars are born each year in the Milky Way, while many more blink on across the universe. But astronomers have observed that galaxies should be churning out millions more stars, based on the amount of interstellar gas available.
- This Hubble Space Telescope image of galaxy NGC 1275 reveals the fine, thread-like filamentary structures in the gas surrounding the galaxy. The red filaments are composed of cool gas being suspended by a magnetic field, and are surrounded by the 100-million-degree Fahrenheit gas in the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster. The filaments are dramatic markers of the feedback process through which energy is transferred from the central massive black hole to the surrounding gas. (Courtesy of NASA (edited by Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT))
Now researchers from MIT, Columbia University, and Michigan State University have pieced together a theory describing how clusters of galaxies may regulate star formation. They describe their framework this week in the journal Nature.
When intracluster gas cools rapidly, it condenses, then collapses to form new stars. Scientists have long thought that something must be keeping the gas from cooling enough to generate more stars — but exactly what has remained a mystery.
For some galaxy clusters, the researchers say, the intracluster gas may simply be too hot — on the order of hundreds of millions of degrees Celsius. Even if one region experiences some cooling, the intensity of the surrounding heat would keep that region from cooling further — an effect known as conduction. ...
For so-called “cool core” galaxy clusters, the gas near the center may be cool enough to form some stars. However, a portion of this cooled gas may rain down into a central black hole, which then spews out hot material that serves to reheat the surroundings, preventing many stars from forming — an effect the team terms “precipitation-driven feedback.” ...
Regulation of star formation in giant galaxies by precipitation, feedback and conduction - G. M. Voit et al