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The care and feeding of baby supermassive black holes

7 Jan 2020, 14:00 UTC
The care and feeding of baby supermassive black holes
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

For a couple of decades, astronomers have had something of a thorny problem: How did supermassive black holes get so supermassive?

We see these monster black holes in the centers of pretty much every big galaxy, some with millions or even billions of times the mass of the Sun. By studying lots and lots of them, we've figured out that they form along with the galaxy itself, and the two interact with each other as they grow. When we measure certain characteristics about the host galaxy, we find that they correlate well with the mass of the black hole in their center. The only way that can happen is if there is some sort of feedback between the two. For example, the spread of velocities of stars orbiting the galaxy in its central bulge gets bigger if the black hole has more mass. Other examples abound.

So it makes sense that they formed together, affecting each other. That means these black holes are old; we see galaxies forming at the edge of the observable Universe. Light takes so long to get here from there that we see these galaxies when the Universe itself was less than a billion years old. ...

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