Suppressing star formation in quiescent galaxies with supermassive black hole winds

Edmond Cheung, Kevin Bundy, Michele Cappellari, Sébastien Peirani, Wiphu Rujopakarn, Kyle Westfall, Renbin Yan, Matthew Bershady, Jenny E. Greene, Timothy M. Heckman, Niv Drory, David R. Law, Karen L. Masters, Daniel Thomas, David A. Wake, Anne-Marie Weijmans, Kate Rubin, Francesco Belfiore, Benedetta Vulcani, Yan-mei ChenKai Zhang, Joseph D. Gelfand, Dmitry Bizyaev, A. Roman-Lopes, Donald P. Schneider

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Quiescent galaxies with little or no ongoing star formation dominate the galaxy population above $M_{*}\sim 2 \times 10^{10}~M_{\odot}$, where their numbers have increased by a factor of $\sim25$ since $z\sim2$. Once star formation is initially shut down, perhaps during the quasar phase of rapid accretion onto a supermassive black hole, an unknown mechanism must remove or heat subsequently accreted gas from stellar mass loss or mergers that would otherwise cool to form stars. Energy output from a black hole accreting at a low rate has been proposed, but observational evidence for this in the form of expanding hot gas shells is indirect and limited to radio galaxies at the centers of clusters, which are too rare to explain the vast majority of the quiescent population. Here we report bisymmetric emission features co-aligned with strong ionized gas velocity gradients from which we infer the presence of centrally-driven winds in typical quiescent galaxies that host low-luminosity active nuclei. These galaxies are surprisingly common, accounting for as much as $10\%$ of the population at $M_* \sim 2 \times 10^{10}~ M_{\odot}$. In a prototypical example, we calculate that the energy input from the galaxy's low-level active nucleus is capable of driving the observed wind, which contains sufficient mechanical energy to heat ambient, cooler gas (also detected) and thereby suppress star formation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)504-508
Issue number7604
Early online date26 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2016


  • astro-ph.GA
  • galaxies and clusters
  • astronomy and astrophysics
  • interstellar medium


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