Let’s take a journey 5.7 billion light-years away from Earth and find ourselves looking at the beautiful Phoenix Galaxy Cluster. This cluster is one of the most massive galaxy clusters so far discovered by astronomers. It’s so big that it would take you 1.1 million years travelling at the speed of light to go from the center to the outer edges of the halo. Check it out in its full glory here:
At the center of the gargantuan galaxy cluster is a supermassive black hole that is about a thousand times more massive than our own! What’s even more fascinating is the galaxy at the center contains so much hot gas that it has more normal matter at the center than all the galaxies surrounding it combined!
Furthermore, the odd thing is even though there is so much normal mass and hot gas, the supermassive black hole doesn’t have any active jets or outbursts. This is important because that helps heat up the matter surrounding it and increase star formation. Thus, it makes it poor at forming stars and scientists even dubbed the Phoenix Galaxy cluster the highest rate of cooling gas they’ve ever seen. They recorded that it cools down gasses at a rate of 3,820 solar masses per year.
Another aspect that makes the Phoenix Galaxy cluster even more intriguing is the amount of x-rays it produces. As you can see in the photo above the purple is all the x-rays it’s producing! It also broke another record of a galaxy cluster with the highest amount of x-rays ever recorded.
However, our behemoth phoenix galaxy cluster is having somewhat of an identity crisis. It’s sharing properties of both quasars and radio galaxy. A quasar is defined as very bright objects that have matter falling into the center of the supermassive black holes. Whereas radio galaxies contain jets of particles that can be seen in radio waves, such as x-rays. Half the energy of this supermassive black hole are from jets pushing around the surrounding gas in “radio-mode” and the other half from UV and X-radiation that come from the galaxies accretion disk. The current thought from the scientific community is the black hole may be flipping between the two states.
It is thought that this flip between these two states may have caused rapid star formation in clumps. In fact, it’s so rapid that it produced about 610 solar masses or new “Suns” every year. By comparison, our Milky Way produces only a few every year.
These insights into the Phoenix Cluster shed light on many astrophysical problems. It helps us understand star formation, growth of galaxies and black holes, and the co-evolution of black holes and their environment. This galaxy cluster was first discovered in 2010 and we’re still learning so much from it. The universe has so many mysteries waiting for us to discover.