New York: The most luminous galaxy in the universe – dubbed W2246-0526 – is so violently turbulent that it may eventually jettison its entire supply of star-forming gas, according to a study.
Using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA), an astronomical interferometer of radio telescopes in the Atacama desert of Chile, a team of researchers found that the obscured quasar 12.4 billion light years away is “so chaotic that it is ripping itself apart”.
Previous studies with NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft revealed that the galaxy is glowing in infrared light as intensely as approximately 350 trillion suns.
The galaxy has a voraciously feeding supermassive black hole at its centre that is completely obscured behind a thick blanket of dust.
This galaxy’s startling brightness is powered by a tiny, yet incredibly, energetic disk of gas that is being superheated as it spirals in on the supermassive black hole.
The light from this blazingly bright accretion disk is then absorbed by the surrounding dust, which re-emits the energy as infrared light.
“These properties make this object a beast in the infrared,” said Roberto Assef, an astronomer with the Universidad Diego Portales and leader of the ALMA observing team.
“The powerful infrared energy emitted by the dust then has a direct and violent impact on the entire galaxy, producing extreme turbulence throughout the interstellar medium.”
The astronomers compare this turbulent action to a pot of boiling water. If these conditions continue, they say, the galaxy’s intense infrared radiation will boil away all of its interstellar gas.
This galaxy belongs to a very unusual type of quasar known as Hot, Dust-Obscured Galaxies (Hot DOGs). These objects are very rare. Only one out of every 3,000 quasars observed by WISE belongs to this class.
The study findings will be published in the next issue of the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.