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Black holes can devour entire galaxies, scientists say

Supermassive black holes are thought to reside at the center of almost every galaxy. Sometimes they end up destroying their home.

Image

This July 23, 2009 image taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the NGC-1097 galaxy, located some 50 million light-years away. NGC-1097 is spiral-shaped like our Milky Way, with long, spindly arms of stars. The 'eye' at the center of the galaxy is actually a monstrous black hole surrounded by a ring of stars.

AP/NASA

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Black holes might kill entire galaxies with blazing energy, dooming embryonic stars before they can get born and condemning the remaining stars to a slow death, scientists have found.

Although nothing can escape from a black hole, before matter falls into one, it swirls around to form a disk that heats up as it packs together, radiating energy.

Supermassive black holes are thought to reside at the center of almost every galaxy, with some growing to billions of times the mass of our sun. To see what impact these monsters might have, researchers relied on data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, looking for galaxies with very high X-ray emissions, a classic signature of black holes devouring gas and dust.

IN PICTURES: Where stars form

The scientists discovered the accretion disks of super-massive black holes in at least one-third of all the massive galaxies in the universe far outshines the combined output of the hundreds of billions of stars in their host galaxies at some point in their histories. This outpouring of energy is high enough to strip apart every massive galaxy in the cosmos 25 times over, while the X-ray emission from them turns out to dwarf that from every other source in the universe put together.

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