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Turning off the Lights

February 26, 2018

A supermassive black hole appears to be “blowing out the candles” in its home galaxy. It’s producing a strong wind that’s blowing away the gas around it, shutting down the birth of new stars.

A team led by Shelley Wright of the University of California-San Diego used telescopes on the ground and in space to study a galaxy known as 3c 298. It’s more than nine billion light-years away. That means we see the galaxy as it looked more than nine billion years ago, when the universe was just a third of its present age. And the galaxy is merging with a smaller galaxy.

The heart of 3c 298 contains a black hole that’s a few billion times the mass of the Sun. The black hole is surrounded by a disk of gas that’s spiraling into the black hole. As it gets close, the gas is heated to extreme temperatures, so the disk shines brilliantly. That creates a quasar — one of the brightest objects in the universe.

Observations of 3c 298 show that huge amounts of gas are moving away from the quasar — enough to make thousands of Sun-