Scientists Unravel the Enigma of Supermassive Black Hole Expansion

Astronomers have made significant progress in understanding the growth patterns of supermassive black holes. They typically exist at the centre of galaxies, with some having masses comparable to billions of suns. However, the processes by which they grow to such enormous sizes have remained largely mysterious.

The study, led by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), used the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and the Hubble Space Telescope to observe 13 galaxies with supermassive black holes at their centres. The team focused on their “feeding habits” to understand how they grow over time.

The researchers discovered that these black holes grow primarily by pulling in large amounts of gas from their host galaxies over extended periods, a process known as “chaotic cold accretion.” In this process, the gas cools down as it gets closer to the black hole, eventually forming a disk. The black hole then consumes this disk, growing in size. This process can lead to the black hole doubling its mass approximately every one billion years.

The study also found that supermassive black holes can occasionally consume entire stars. However, this method of growth is relatively rare and contributes less to their overall size increase. The “chaotic cold accretion” is the dominant process and occurs more frequently.

These findings have important implications for our understanding of galaxy formation and evolution. Supermassive black holes influence the formation of stars in their host galaxies by controlling the amount of gas available for star formation. Therefore, understanding how they grow can provide insights into the life cycles of galaxies.

This study is a significant step in astronomers’ ongoing efforts to understand the nature of supermassive black holes and their role in the cosmos. Future research will continue to explore the behaviours and impacts of these cosmic giants. The results of the study are published in the Astrophysical Journal.

For better understanding, it can be useful to know that black holes are regions of space where gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape them. They are formed from the remnants of massive stars when they collapse under their own gravity. Supermassive black holes are a type of black hole that is significantly larger, with masses of millions or billions of times that of our Sun. They are fascinating objects for astronomers, due to their extreme properties and the dramatic effects they have on their surroundings.

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