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Winds of Change: How Black Holes May Shape Galaxies

For Release: March 3, 2010


Credit: X-ray (NASA/CXC/MIT/C.Canizares, D.Evans et al), Optical (NASA/STScI), Radio (NSF/NRAO/VLA))
Press Image and Caption

New observations from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory provide evidence for powerful winds blowing away from the vicinity of a supermassive black hole in a nearby galaxy. This discovery indicates that "average" supermassive black holes may play an important role in the evolution of the galaxies in which they reside.

For years, astronomers have known that a supermassive black hole grows in parallel with its host galaxy. And, it has long been suspected that material blown away from a black hole - as opposed to the fraction of material that falls into it -- alters the evolution of its host galaxy.

A key question is whether such "black hole blowback" typically delivers enough power to have a significant impact. Powerful relativistic jets shot away from the biggest supermassive black holes in large, central galaxies in clusters like Perseus are seen to shape their host galaxies, but these are rare. What about less powerful, less focused galaxy-scale winds that should be much more common?

"We're more interested here in seeing what an "average"-sized supermassive black hole can do to its galaxy, not the few, really big ones in the biggest galaxies," said Dan Evans of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who presented these results at the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society meeting in Kona, Hawaii.

Evans and his colleagues used Chandra for five days to observe NGC 1068, one of the nearest and brightest galaxies containing a rapidly growing supermassive black hole. This black hole is only about twice as massive as the one in the center of our Galaxy, which is considered to be a rather ordinary size.

The X-ray images and spectra obtained using Chandra's High Energy Transmission Grating Spectrometer (HETGS) showed that a strong wind is being driven away from the center of NGC 1068 at a rate of about a million miles per hour. This wind is likely generated as surrounding gas is accelerated and heated as it swirls toward the black hole. A portion of the gas is pulled into the black hole, but some of it is blown away. High energy X-rays produced by the gas near the black hole heat the ouflowing gas, causing it to glow at lower X-ray energies.

This Chandra study by Evans and his colleagues is much deeper than previous X-ray observations. It allowed them to make a high-definition map of the cone-shaped volume lit up by the black hole and its winds. By combining measurement of the velocity of the clouds with estimates of the density of the gas, Evans and his colleagues showed that each year several times the mass of the Sun is being deposited out to large distances, about 3,000 light years from the black hole. The wind may carry enough energy to heat the surrounding gas and suppress extra star formation.

"We have shown that even these middle-of-the-road black holes can pack a punch," said Evans. "I think the upshot is that these black holes are anything but ordinary."

Further Chandra HETGS studies of other nearby galaxies will examine the impact of other AGN outflows, leading to improvements in our understanding of the evolution of both galaxies and black holes.

"In the future, our own Galaxy's black hole may undergo similar activity, helping to shut down the growth of new stars in the central region of the Milky Way," said Evans.

These new results provide a key comparison to previous work performed at Georgia State University and the Catholic University of America with the Hubble Space Telescope's STIS instrument.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra's science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

More information, including images and other multimedia, can be found at: and

Media contacts:
Janet Anderson
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Ala.

Megan Watzke
Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.

Visitor Comments (22)

Great article.

Posted by Mahedi on Tuesday, 10.18.16 @ 12:40pm

The universe is amazing...

Posted by mahmood on Friday, 11.15.13 @ 10:51am

If a black hole can't be seen or recorded, then why must they be infinite? why can't they just end up dead like the rest of us?

Posted by andrew on Wednesday, 04.28.10 @ 22:35pm

Dear Kris,
The answer to this good question isn't known yet. There is a lot of evidence that galaxies and their supermassive black holes grow together, but so far there is little evidence that one of them started before the other. In the latter category was this interesting press release:

but this result needs to be confirmed by further work.
P. Edmonds for CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Wednesday, 04.28.10 @ 11:59am

Dear CARL,
There could indeed be life surrounding such galaxies, but such objects are very distant compared to local regions of our own galaxy. Searches for evidence of life beyond the Earth target the very nearby parts of our own galaxy.
P. Edmonds for CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Wednesday, 04.28.10 @ 11:56am

Dear John Hornstein,
The mechanism for the wind is not well understood but it is indeed thought to be generated above and below the plane of the accretion disk.
P. Edmonds for CXC

Posted by P. Edmonds on Wednesday, 04.28.10 @ 11:52am

So, do you think there could be life surrounding such galaxies? It would be great news.

Posted by CARL on Monday, 04.12.10 @ 12:43pm

Wonderful news and photo for many of amateurs like us.

Posted by Bill Brookings on Saturday, 04.10.10 @ 11:59am

I want to thank you for the excellent way in which information is exposed to people with some knowledge of astronomy, like me, a teacher.
Thanks for good work.

Posted by Pedro on Thursday, 03.25.10 @ 13:04pm

If the question were "Which came first, the galaxy or the black hole?" this seems to indicate that the galaxy came first. Is this true? Or do we know?

Posted by Kris on Wednesday, 03.24.10 @ 00:45am

This is excellent and front line knowledge for retired techies, like me. The associated write-up is brilliant and simple, and all of us understand it. Congratulations and thank you. Keep it up and remember your effort helps many like me, get an insight into the frontiers of Astronomy.

Posted by AK Sharma on Saturday, 03.20.10 @ 13:57pm

Does the wind blow from the corona above and below the accretion disk?

Posted by John Hornstein on Tuesday, 03.16.10 @ 15:46pm

What is known as the dark ages was the time for collision friction and the state of motion for the mc2 to exist as a density and geometry with mechanical duration. Some black holes may only be a simple impact momentum object from disk to spheroid of compression pressure density from force pressure density of the energy of the collision friction and of motion a side note 1 n N Infinity is size put in any quality quantity its still size.

Posted by J J Madson on Monday, 03.15.10 @ 16:57pm

The milky ways and Andromeda black holes will be almost similar in size to NGC 1068 big black hole. Then the two galaxies black holes merge together to one.

Posted by Micro on Monday, 03.15.10 @ 01:38am

I want more detail about this blackholes, how can I get it? I want to picture about that I wish all of the best, because you give most of informatin to people's. Thank you.

Posted by indika on Monday, 03.8.10 @ 03:33am

I must be missing something. If the wind is depositing each year several times the mass of the Sun out to a distance of about 3000 light years from the black hole, wouldn't that matter have to be travelling at 3000 times the speed of light in a vacuum?

Posted by Mark Sonk on Sunday, 03.7.10 @ 00:38am

Fantastic pictures.

Posted by PETER GRANT on Saturday, 03.6.10 @ 15:41pm

Great multiwavelength look at this nearby Seyfert galaxy M-77 never looked better.

Posted by Jon Hanford on Friday, 03.5.10 @ 22:24pm

It looks like the black hole is the axis of the galaxy.

Posted by Roberto Gonzalez Davison on Friday, 03.5.10 @ 20:54pm

Multi-frequency imagery allows the beauty to be shown and its physics to be known unless of course if the majority of the Universe is invisible in the vacuum-state and the differences are in the temperatures as well as sizes and densities compression pressure at pressure density differences may vary light for observation.

Posted by J Madson on Friday, 03.5.10 @ 16:28pm

Can you check to see if the composite images are label correctly?

Posted by travis on Wednesday, 03.3.10 @ 16:51pm

Fascinating study. Thank you for providing this information to us.

Posted by jude on Wednesday, 03.3.10 @ 16:25pm