Researchers at Oxford University used first-time observations from the James Webb Space Telescope to study how the properties of the most common organic molecules change near supermassive black holes in the center of the galaxy.
For their work, scientists used spectroscopic data collected by the medium infrared range of the Webb telescope for three active galaxy kernels. The device measures light in the range of wave lengths from 5 to 28 μn. The researchers then compared observations to theoretical predictions for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
The results disproved the predictions of earlier studies that were thought that molecules should be destroyed near a black hole in the center of an active galaxy. Instead, the analysis showed that molecules survive even where very powerful photons should tear them apart. Scientists believe that the organic is saved by a large amount of molecular gas in the nuclear field.
However, supermassive black holes in the heart of the galaxy have had a significant impact on the properties of molecules; in particular, the proportion of larger and neutral molecules has increased, indicating the possible destruction of more fragile small and charged PAH molecules.
Tiny dust molecules, known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are one of the most common organic molecules in the universe and an important astronomical tool; for example, they are considered the main building blocks of prebiotic compounds that are considered to have played a key role in the origin of life.
PAH molecules produce extremely bright infrared radiation bands when lit by stars, allowing astronomers not only to monitor the activity of star formation but also to use them as sensitive barometers of local physical conditions. Understanding the composition of organic molecules near galaxy centres will help scientists to refine models for the study of star formation in this field.