Stars can apparently form in the extreme environment near a supermassive black hole, astrophysicists report. Near-infrared studies had revealed about 100 high-mass stars within 0.3 light-year of the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole. If those stars had formed elsewhere and spiraled in, they should be accompanied by tens of thousands of low-mass stars. Small stars around black holes should also be intensely bright x-ray sources, but the x-rays emanating from around the galactic core could represent no more than 1,000 such stars, the researchers note. Hence, they conclude, the massive stars must have formed near the black hole, presumably by fragmentation of the surrounding accretion disk. “Theorists long believed it possible,” says Sergei Nayakshin of the University of Leicester in England, co-author of the paper to appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
This article was originally published with the title "Extreme Star Formation" in Scientific American 293, 4, 33 (October 2005)