Bullying Black Holes Force Galaxies To Stay Red And Dead


Copyright: Digitised Sky Survey/NASA Chandra/Southern Observatory for Astrophysical Research/Very Large Array (Robert Dunn et al. 2010)

Copyright: Digitised Sky Survey/NASA Chandra/Southern Observatory for Astrophysical Research/Very Large Array (Robert Dunn et al. 2010)

Giant elliptical galaxies are the most puzzling type of galaxy in the Universe. Since they mysteriously shut down their star-forming activity and remain home only to the longest-lived of their stars – which are low-mass ones and appear red – astronomers often call these galaxies ‘red and dead’.

Up until now, it was thought that red-and-dead galaxies were poor in cold gas – the vital raw material from which stars are born. While cold gas is abundant in spiral galaxies with lively star formation, the lack of it in giant ellipticals seemed to explain the absence of new stars.

Astronomers have long been debating the physical processes leading to the end of their star formation. They speculated that these galaxies somehow expelled the cold gas, or that they had simply used it all to form stars in the past. Although the reason was uncertain, one thing seemed to have been established: these galaxies are red and dead because they no longer possess the means to sustain the production of stars.

This view is being challenged by a new study based on data from ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory. The results are published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“We looked at eight giant elliptical galaxies that nobody had looked at with Herschel before and we were delighted to find that, contrary to previous belief, six out of eight abound with cold gas”, explains Norbert Werner from Stanford University in California, USA, who led the study.
This is the first time that astronomers have seen large amounts of cold gas in red-and-dead galaxies that are not located at the centre of a massive galaxy cluster.

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