Cosmic Car Crash Could Be a New Way to Form Stars, Study Finds

As you could guess by watching literally any documentary, the universe is hostile as hell. Stuff is always dying and erupting and bumping into each other, nevermind supermassive black holes — that’s a whole other box of nightmares. But a new study suggests a smashup between a jet from the active center of a galaxy and clouds of gas and dust might form new stars. That’s at least a semi-happy ending?

Active galactic nuclei (AGNs) host a ton of electromagnetic radiation, which is one of the reasons galaxies that contain them are considered “active.” They are linked to a supermassive black holes that lurk in the center of certain galaxies, and the AGN’s radiation is thought to come from built up matter from the hungry hole. The most powerful AGNs are called quasars, but that’s another story for another time.

Recently, a team of researchers created models to predict the outcome of an AGN jet colliding with a cloud of gas, in hopes of recreating observations of something called Minkowski’s Object, “a stellar nursery located at the endpoint of a radio jet emitted from the active galaxy NGC 541,” according to a press release. Their findings were published on November 30 in The Astrophysical Journal.

The team used a software called Cosmos++ to create 3-D simulations of the hellish scenario in which an AGN jet would crash with an inactive cloud. Their experiment showed that the shock of this event caused all sorts of changes within the cloud, most notably, that parts of the cloud could collapse to form stars. They were even able to recreate a scenario in which the rate of star formation was similar to that of Minkowski’s Object.

Some of the researchers' simulations.

Fragile et al. 2017

The researchers say their work is far from over, and that they’ll try and tweak their simulations to become more advanced. But this is an interesting first step toward unlocking at least one stellar mystery. As we all know, there are a lot of things in the final frontier that still need explaining.

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