Monster black holes at the centers of galaxies tend to 'light up' – throwing out massive amounts of radiation – when galaxies merge.
STScI/NASA and Hubble Heritage Team/File
Enormous black holes, some of the most powerful sources of radiation in the universe, apparently switch on after galaxies collide, researchers have found.
The centers of as many as a tenth of all galaxies generate more energy than can be explained by stars, with some of these "active galactic nuclei" releasing more radiation than the entire Milky Way galaxy combined, but from a space no larger than our solar system. Astronomers suspect this energy is released when matter falls into giant, supermassive black holes that are up to billions of times the mass of our sun at these galaxies' cores.
"These monster black holes evolve in a way that is strongly related to the amount of dark matter that surrounds them and that is intimately related to the probability of galaxies to merge," said study lead author Nico Cappelluti, an astrophysicist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany.
The new study supports the idea that these active galactic nuclei are stimulated when two galaxies are drawn together by their mutual gravitational attraction and ultimately merge to become one. The process likely shakes up matter and pushes material toward the center of the new mega-galaxy, creating a perfect feeding ground for a hungry black hole.