Phoenix A is the central galaxy of the Phoenix Cluster, a group of about 1,000 galaxies located 8.5 billion light-years from Earth. The Phoenix Cluster is one of the most intensively studied galaxy clusters in the Universe because it has some unusual features that challenge our understanding of galaxy formation and evolution.
One such feature is the high rate of star formation in Phoenix A. This galaxy produces 740 new stars yearly, compared to one star per year in our Milky Way. This means that Phoenix A creates more stars in a week than our galaxy does in a year. How does she do it? Well, he has plenty of gas to fuel his star factory. Phoenix A contains more gas than any known galaxy, and much of it is hot and ionized, emitting X-rays and radio waves.
But where does all this gas come from? And why doesn’t it cool down and form stars faster? This is where Phoenix A’s secret is revealed: its monstrous black hole.
At the center of Phoenix A is a supermassive black hole estimated to be 100 billion times more massive than our Sun. That’s right, 100 billion. This is larger than some galaxies and is the largest black hole ever discovered.
To give you an idea of this black hole’s size, its event horizon (the point of no return for anything that falls into it) has a diameter of 590 billion kilometers or about 100 times the distance between the Sun and Pluto. If you could travel at the speed of light (which you can’t), it would take you 71 days to travel around it.
This black hole is not only huge but also greedy. It absorbs gas and dust from its surroundings and grows by 60 Suns yearly. At the same time, it releases an incredible amount of energy in the form of jets and winds that rush outward from its poles. These jets and winds are so strong that they heat and push back the gas around the black hole, preventing it from cooling and forming stars. This creates a feedback loop that regulates star formation in Phoenix A.
So Phoenix A is a star factory with the heart of a monster. This is a galaxy that defies our expectations and challenges our theories. This galaxy reminds us how amazing and diverse the Universe is. And this is a galaxy from which we still have much to learn.