A new study based on data from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton X-ray space observatory is helping scientists revise their theory about the activation of supermassive black holes. Turns out, supermassive black holes may not start spewing intense radiation as a result of a merger between two galaxies, which is the current thought.
Most galaxies, if not all, have at their centers a supermassive black hole. Such black holes have a mass at least millions of times greater than the mass of our sun.
It's not quite known what makes a supermassive black hole go from a quiet galactic center to an active nucleus, violently throwing off radiation. The standing idea is that when two galaxies are within close range of each other, or when they merge, disturbed galactic material then feeds the supermassive black hole, activating it.
It turns out that idea may be incorrect. New results from a study of the patch of sky known as the COSMOS field show that most active supermassive black holes weren't triggered by a merger of two galaxies. A paper on the study will appear in The Astrophysical Journal.
“These new results give us a new insight into how supermassive black holes start their meals,” said Viola Allevato of the Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik; Excellence Cluster Universe in Garching, Germany, who's the lead author of the new paper. “They indicate that black holes are usually fed by processes within the galaxy itself, such as disc instabilities and starbursts, as opposed to galaxy collisions.”Read more about the new study