How the largest black holes in the universe arose

In the middle of the path that separates the small constellations of Delphinus the Dolphin and the hind hoof of Pegasus the flying horse, an immaculate pinwheel moves through space.

For billions of years, the woolly spiral arms of the galaxy UCG 11700 have spun peacefully undisturbed by collisions and mergers that have warped other galaxies.

However, as the UCG 11700 rotates harmoniously in space, something monstrous lurks at its center.

At the heart of this beautiful cosmic wheel is one of the most mysterious objects in the universe: a supermassive black hole.

While the mass of standard black holes is about four times that of our Sun, their huge relatives are millions and sometimes billions of times more massive.

Ученые считают, что почти все большие галактики имеют в своем сердце сверхмассивную черную дыру, хотя никто не знает, как они туда попали.

Вот где может пригодиться галактика UCG 11700.

«Идеальные галактики для моего исследования – это самые красивые и совершенные спирали, которые вы можете себе представить», – говорит младший исследователь Оксфордского университета Бекки Сметурст, изучающая сверхмассивные черные дыры.

«Самые красивые галактики – это те, которые могут помочь нам разгадать тайну роста этих черных дыр», – добавляет он.

Studying something that by its nature is so dense that not even light can escape from its center makes learning difficult.

But new techniques that look for the effects supermassive black holes have on surrounding interstellar objects – and even the ripples they create in the fabric of space and time – are providing new clues.

How a black hole appears
There’s a little secret to how conventional, if you can call it that, the way a black hole appears and grows.

A dying star runs out of fuel, explodes in a supernova, collapses in on itself, and becomes so dense that not even light can escape its intense gravity.

The idea of black holes has been around for a century and was already predicted by Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

In popular culture, black holes are perfectly dark and endlessly hungry.

They traverse the universe absorbing everything in their path, growing larger and more voracious as they do so.

Mystery solved, one might think: supermassive black holes are simply the hungriest and oldest of their kind.

However, black holes do not live up to their monstrous reputation.

They are surprisingly ineffective at accreting (the scientific term for “absorbing”) surrounding material, even in a dense galactic nucleus.