This artist’s impression depicts the process of star formation that occurs within the outflows of a supermassive black hole. Outflows are huge winds of material that are ejected from around an active galactic core, powered by immense amounts of energy from the supermassive black hole lurking at its centre.
This type of star formation was only discovered by astronomers last year using observations from the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope. While watching an ongoing galactic collision 600 million lightyears away, the team found evidence of new stars forming in the cosmic winds blasting out from one galaxy’s core.
The stars born in the outflow are estimated to be less than a few tens of millions of years old and are much hotter and brighter than those that form under less extreme conditions. The new stars were also forming very rapidly – astronomers estimate that the stars that form each year would be equivalent to 30 times the mass of our Sun in total.
The supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way has a mass of 4 million Suns ■