May 9, 2011

Caught in the act by Herschel: galactic storms sweep away the gas

ESA's Herschel Space Observatory has detected massive amounts of molecular gas gusting at high velocities - in some cases in excess of 1000 kilometres per second - from the centres of a set of merging galaxies. Driven by star formation and central black holes, these powerful storms are strong enough to sweep away billions of solar masses of molecular gas and to interfere with global galactic processes. These observations indicate that, in the galaxies hosting the brightest Active Galactic Nuclei, outflows can clear the entire supply for creating stars and feeding the black hole. This finding provides long-sought-after evidence of highly energetic feedback processes taking place in galaxies as they evolve.

 ESA/AOES Medialab
Illustration explaining how outflows of molecular gas can be detected in the spectra of galaxies with Herschel. Credits: ESA/AOES Medialab

Read the complete article on ESA's website