Astronomy

A Positive Influence

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Science  28 Sep 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6102, pp. 1585
DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6102.1585-b

It is thought that most, if not all, large galaxies host massive black holes at their centers. These black holes become luminous when they accrete matter from their immediate surroundings, and during these phases of active accretion, they are thought to influence the evolution of their galaxies' stellar populations (see Volonteri, Special Issue Review, 3 Aug. 2012, p. 544). Whether this influence is positive or negative (i.e., whether black hole accretion suppresses or induces star formation) is a matter of current debate. By combining observations obtained with the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory with data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, Barthel et al. inferred the star formation rates for three extremely massive galaxies, whose central massive black holes are being fed at a high rate. Analysis of these galaxies' spectral energy distributions implies that they are all forming stars at exceptionally high rates, showing that powerful black hole accretion and vigorous star formation can occur simultaneously, at least in the most massive galaxies.

Astrophys. J. 757, L26 (2012).

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