Black holes feed on stars

Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 14:50 in Astronomy & Space

Most galaxies, including the Milky Way, have a supermassive black hole at their center weighing millions to billions of suns. But how do those black holes grow so hefty? Some theories suggest they were born large. Others claim they grew larger over time through black hole mergers, or by consuming huge amounts of gas. New research by astronomers at the University of Utah and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) shows that supermassive black holes can grow big by ripping apart double-star systems and swallowing one of the stars. “Black holes are very efficient eating machines,” said Scott Kenyon of the CfA. “They can double their mass in less than a billion years. That may seem long by human standards, but over the history of the galaxy it’s pretty fast.” “I believe this has got to be the dominant method for growing supermassive black holes,” added lead author Benjamin Bromley of the University...

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