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Black Hole Nurtures Baby Stars a Million Light Years Away

Astronomers have uncovered a black hole that may have sparked the birth of stars over a phenomenal distance of more than a million light years and across multiple galaxies. If confirmed, this discovery, made with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, would represent the widest reach ever seen for a black hole acting as a stellar kick-starter.

The supermassive black hole is located in the center of a galaxy about 9.9 billion light years from Earth. This galaxy has at least seven neighboring galaxies, according to two optical light telescopes in Chile and Arizona.

Previously, astronomers had discovered a jet from this black hole in radio waves with the Very Large Array. Using Chandra, researchers then detected a bright X-ray source around the black hole as well as a diffuse cloud of X-rays at one end of the jet. Astronomers think this thin cloud of X-rays probably represents a bubble in the galaxy's hot gas created by the jet. As this bubble expanded, it likely created a shock wave that triggered star formation as it moved.

Researchers estimate from their data that four neighboring galaxies, each about 400,000 light years away from the end of the black hole's jet, have dramatically increased rates of star formation. This result represents a relatively rare occurrence where a black hole is actually boosting star formation rather than suppressing it. On top to that, this is the farthest that astronomers have ever seen this effect of so-called positive feedback extend.

Scientists will continue to study objects similar to this one in the hopes of trying to determine if this phenomenon is common — or not — in the formation of groups and clusters of galaxies.

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