A new theory coming out of Northwestern University could mean that Molecules found in winds powered by supermassive black holes may be new and somehow have adapted to survive in these inhospitable areas
The existences of large numbers of these molecules have perplexed astronomers since their discovery more than a decade ago. It is fairly normal to find trace molecules in the coldest parts of space, so finding molecules in black hole winds was akin to finding ice cubes in your winter fire
Astronomers questioned how anything could survive the heat of the energetic outflows, but the new theory predicts that these molecules are born in the winds with unique properties that enable them to adapt to and thrive in the hostile environment.
The theory is the work of Alexander Richings, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University who developed the computer code that, for the first time, modelled the detailed chemical processes that occur in interstellar gas accelerated by radiation emitted during the growth of supermassive black holes.
Richings says “When a black hole wind sweeps up gas from its host galaxy, the gas is heated to high temperatures, which destroy any existing molecules. By modelling the molecular chemistry in computer simulations of black hole winds, we found that this swept-up gas can subsequently cool and form new molecules.
“This is the first time that the molecule formation process has been simulated in full detail and it is a very compelling explanation for the observation that molecules are ubiquitous in supermassive black hole winds, which has been one of the major outstanding problems in the field,”
The findings predict that the new molecules formed in the winds are warmer and brighter in infrared radiation compared to pre-existing molecules.
That theory will be put to the test when NASA launches the James Webb Space Telescope in spring 2019. If the theory is correct, the telescope will be able to map black hole outflows in detail using infrared radiation.
Source: Northwestern University