A three-way collision of galaxies has given birth to a monstrous black hole
Zhaoyu Li/Shanghai Astronomical Observatory
A black hole 3.8 billion times the mass of our sunScientists believe that in the center of every large galaxy there lives a supermassive black hole. The center of our own galaxy is thought to house a black hole that is about 4 million times the mass of our sun.But the galaxy in question, IRAS 20100-4156, appears to be made up of three separate spiral galaxies (a type of galaxy that forms a flat rotating disc of stars, dust, and gas that bulges in the center with a high concentration of stars). As these galaxies collide, the black holes in their centers merge together, giving birth to a monstrous black hole that is 3.8 billion times the mass of our sun.
"This very fast motion of the gas tells us about how massive the black hole is," lead author at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science astrophysicist Lisa Harvey-Smith told Australian news site ABC. "The really exciting thing about this is it is a direct measurement of the mass of the black hole by stuff that's swirling around it."
What this black hole can tell us about the evolution of the universe
NASA / Handout
Scientists think that this accelerated rate of star formation might be due to the compression of gas clouds that collide during the merging of galaxies.
"We want to know whether galaxy collisions, and the formation of supermassive black holes, have really driven the star formation rates that we see in galaxies and how that's changed throughout time," Harvey-Smith said.While this particular black hole is gigantic, physicists believe the largest black holes in the universe may reach masses up to 10 times greater, 40 billion times that of our sun.
Measuring the mass of supermassive black holes in galaxies of different ages could give insights into how galaxies have evolved over the history of the universe, Harvey-Smith said.
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