Home Astronomy & Space Feeding a galaxy’s nuclear black hole

Feeding a galaxy’s nuclear black hole

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Feeding a galaxys nuclear black hole
Feeding a galaxys nuclear black hole


The luminous, barred galaxy ESO 320-G030 is about one hundred and fifty million light-years away and shows no signs of having been in a merger, yet this galaxy has a bar nearly sixty thousand light-years long, as well as a second bar about ten times smaller perpendicular to it. This galaxy shows high star formation activity in the nuclear region, but no clear evidence of an active nucleus, perhaps because of the high extinction. The galaxy is also seen with inflowing gas (and evidence of outflows simultaneously), making it a nearby prototype of isolated, rapidly evolving galaxies driven by their bars.

CfA astronomers Eduardo Gonzalez-Alfonso, Matt Ashby, and Howard Smith led a program of far infrared Herschel spectroscopy of this object coupled with ALMA submillimeter observations of the gas. By carefully modeling the shapes of the infrared absorption lines of water and several of its ionized and isotopic variations, with fifteen other molecular species including ammonia, OH and NH, they conclude that a nuclear starburst of about twenty solar-masses of stars per year is being sustained by gas inflow with short (twenty million year) lifetime. They find evidence for three structural components: an envelope about five hundred light-years across, a dense circumnuclear disk about one hundred twenty light-years in radius, and a compact core or torus forty light-years in size and characterized by its very warm dust. These three components are responsible for about 70% of the galaxy’s luminosity. Although ESO 320-G030 is an exceptional example, being both bright and nearby, the results suggest that similar complex nuclear structures, with inflows and outflows, may be common in luminous galaxies in the more distant universe including those during its most active epoch of star formation.


Provided by: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

More information: Gonzalez-Alfonso et al. A proto-pseudobulge in ESO 320-G030 fed by a massive molecular inflow driven by a nuclear bar. astro-ph.GA (2020). arxiv.org/abs/2011.00347

Image: A near-infrared Hubble image of the luminous, barred spiral galaxy ESO320-G030. Infrared observations and modeling of over a dozen molecular species at its center reveal massive inflows of gas to a nuclear region undergoing a burst of star formation and dominated by three-components, a small warm core, a disk, and an outer envelope.
Credit: NASA/HST; Alonso-Herrero et al.