Distilling a Galaxy

In the void of space,
the black hole spins –
drawing all matter
into its cosmic,
lightless wells.
Around the rim
hot gases hiss
and steam,
fanning the flames
with heat
and fear
and change.
Invisible teeth
sinking deep
in the fabric
of spacetime –
Cloaked in dust,
concealed in night –
we pierce veils of starlight
exposing hidden shadows
where matter starts
to rust.

Hydrogen cyanide isotopes (H13CN), shown in yellow, are found only around the black hole at the centre. Cyanide radicals (CN), shown in red, appear not only in the centre and a large-scale ring-shaped gas structure, but also along the bipolar jets extending from the centre towards the northeast (upper left) and southwest (lower right). Carbon monoxide isotopes (13CO), shown in blue, avoid the central region (Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, T. Nakajima et al.).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that supermassive black holes alter galactic chemistry.

Black holes are regions in space where gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape from them. Supermassive black holes are incredibly large versions of these mysterious entities and are usually found at the centre of galaxies. They have a mass equivalent to millions or even billions of our suns. These black holes influence their surroundings in various ways and play a crucial role in shaping the universe as we know it. Yet despite their immense size, black holes are very compact. Combined with the fact that they are so far away from Earth and often hidden behind galaxy dust, it becomes challenging to determine the makeup of the gas surrounding an active supermassive black hole.

Researchers have now used the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array) to look closely at a nearby galaxy named NGC 1068, which has an active supermassive black hole at its centre. They discovered that certain molecules are found in different quantities closer to the black hole compared to further away. For instance, molecules like silicon monoxide (SiO) and hydrogen cyanide (HCN) are more abundant closer to the black hole, while others, like carbon monoxide isotopes (13CO), are more abundant further away. This variation suggests that the environment near the black hole is hotter, possibly due to intense forces and shocks, thereby demonstrating how supermassive black holes in the middle of a galaxy can directly influence the arrangement of chemicals within that galaxy.



2 thoughts on “Distilling a Galaxy”

  1. The strangeness of all things, never ceases to amaze,-

    “ Cloaked in dust,
    concealed in night –
    we pierce veils of starlight
    exposing hidden shadows
    where matter starts
    to rust”

    This strangeness is amazing.
    Thank you for finding the words to describe it Sam


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