How Did Supermassive Black Holes Get So, Well, Supermassive?

Jun 11, 2016

By Phil Plait

Supermassive black holes are a bit of a problem.

Well, some of them power the most luminous objects in the Universe, spewing out high-energy radiation and matter at close to the speed of light, probably sterilizing all of space for thousands of light-years around them. So if you’re too close, yeah, they’re more than a bit of a problem.

But besides that, though, they’re a puzzle. Specifically, where do they come from?

Do they grow from normal, stellar-mass black holes that feed off matter gluttonously, or do they grow directly from collapsing gas as galaxies form? This is a huge question in astrophysics right now, and no one knows the answer. But we’re getting closer, and a new, clever bit of research may be a signpost to how these monsters are born.

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