A black hole has given birth to stars in a nearby dwarf galaxy.
The study shows that black holes are not always the violent and destructive objects they are usually known as. Instead, they seem to be able to create stars, not just eat them.
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope discovered such a black hole in the galaxy known as Henize 2-10, which is 30 million light-years away.
In addition to suggesting that black holes may be more productive than we were aware of, the new research may also help us understand where supermassive black holes originally come from.
Amy Reines, the scientist who published the first evidence of a black hole in the galaxy in 2011, was also the lead scientist on the new paper.
"From the beginning, I knew something unusual and special was happening in Henize 2-10, and now Hubble has given a very clear picture of the connection between the black hole and a neighboring star-forming region located 230 light-years from the black hole," she said.
A paper describing the results, 'Black hole-triggered star formation in the dwarf galaxy Henize 2-10', was published today in Nature.
In larger galaxies, material falling toward the black hole is torn up by its magnetic fields, which create explosions of plasma moving at almost the speed of light. Any gas cloud trapped in that jet would be heated too much to ever create stars.
The black hole in the dwarf galaxy Henize 2-10 is smaller, and the material flowing out of it, however, makes it more gentle. This means that the gas was compressed in the right way to help form stars, not prevent them from doing so.
"Only 30 million light-years away, Henize 2-10 is close enough that Hubble was able to capture both images and spectroscopic evidence of a black hole outflow very clearly. The added surprise was that instead of suppressing star formation, it triggered the outflow the birth of new stars, ”said Zachary Schutte, Reines' graduate student and lead author of the new study.
The new study of the black hole by Hubble could also help provide better details on how such supermassive black holes are formed. Because it has remained small, it could provide a picture of what other - now larger - black holes looked like when they were younger, and how they could form and grow.
"The era of the first black holes is not something we have been able to see, so it has really become the big question: where did they come from? Dwarf galaxies can preserve a memory of the black hole-sowing scenario, which has otherwise been lost to time and space, "Reines said in a statement.