Friday, November 21, 2008

The heart of the matter

In a previous post I referred to black holes as ‘the sculptors of the cosmos’. This may actually turn out to be the wrong metaphor. NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory released some fascinating data this week which suggests that the powerful (supermassive) black holes at the center of massive galaxies and galaxy clusters act as hearts to the systems, pumping energy out at regular intervals to regulate the growth of the black holes themselves, as well as star formation.

The scientists observed and simulated how the black hole at the center of elliptical galaxy M84 dependably sends bubbles of hot plasma into space, heating up interstellar space. This heat is believed to slow both the formation of new stars and the growth of the black hole itself, helping the galaxy remain stable. Interstellar gases only coalesce into new stars when the gas is cool enough.

The heating is more efficient at the sites where it is most needed, the scientists say.
Alexis Finoguenov, of UMBC and the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, compares the central black hole to a heart muscle.

“Just like our hearts periodically pump our circulatory systems to keep us alive, black holes give galaxies a vital warm component. They are a careful creation of nature, allowing a galaxy to maintain a fragile equilibrium,”

Finoguenov said.
This finding helps to explain a decades-long paradox of the existence of large amounts of warm gas around certain galaxies, making them appear bright to the Chandra X-ray telescope.

A paper on the research called “In-depth Chandra study of the AGN feedback in Virgo Elliptical Galaxy M84” has been published in Astrophysical Journal.

There has been something of a rehabilitation for black holes, which for decades were seen as threatening and pointless; symptomatic of the random nature of the cosmos. Now science is showing that we owe them a big favour for helping bring us into existence.

Is a bit mischievous to speculate that there may be some more 'fine tuning' issues?. We shall have to wait and see.

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