Left: X-ray image of a growing black hole and an illustration of an accreting supermassive black hole; Right: computer simulation of the growth of structure in the Universe
Credit: Image: ESA/XMM-Newton/Penn State/F. Zou et al.; Illustration: N.Trehnl (Penn State); Simulations: The TNG Collaboration

Gaining Weight

At the heart of nearly every galaxy lurks a supermassive black hole containing the equivalent of millions or billions of times the Sun's mass - comparable to the amount of mass in an entire galaxy. Even though these monsters are so massive, they only extend over a tiny region of space - even the largest of them would comfortably fit within a space the size of our solar systems (perhaps "comfortably" is not the right word). No one knows for certain how these monsters formed. Perhaps they grow naturally by accreting enormous amounts of material from their host galaxies, or perhaps they grow so large by merging with other black holes. A new study has helped shed light on how supermassive black holes may have grown over most of the history of the Universe, stretching back to a time when the Universe was a little bit more than 10% of its current age. The study used deep X-ray surveys of rapidly-growing, X-ray luminous supermassive black holes by the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the XMM-Newton X-ray telescope, and the eROSITA telescope. The image above shows, on the left, a composite X-ray survey image (from XMM-Newton, in red, green and blue) combined with an image in visible light. The small box is centered on a high-energy X-ray source (colored blue) associated with an accreting supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy. The larger box shows an artist illustration of an accretion disk around a supermassive black hole, and a beam of high energy radiation and particles from near the black hole. On the right is an illustration from a supercomputer simulation of filaments and dense knots, representing the growth of galaxies and supermassive black holes in the Universe. The study concluded that these supermassive monsters mainly grow by accreting material from their host galaxies, with secondary contributions by black hole mergers over the last 5 billion years.
Published: July 1, 2024

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Monday, 15-Jul-2024 10:14:52 EDT