A team of researchers (headed by Dr. Jack Radcliffe from UP) has published research papers that decode the ‘eating habits’ of massive black holes in space. The implications of the research allows scientists to make discernable links between the creation of new stars and the growth of the black hole itself in a particular galaxy.

This is noteworthy as the two aforementioned phenomena are crucial in uncovering complex processes in the universe. A black hole is a dense region of space that has such an intense gravitational field that no matter can escape from it. Black holes normally arise when stars die, and have the potential to grow into much larger forms by either coalescing with other black holes, or “eating” streams of gas and dust in space. The team of researchers describe that the black holes “feed themselves in various ways: some gobble as much as they can, others digest slowly, and others are starving for food”. Dr. Radcliffe explained that “these growth episodes manifest themselves as violent phenomena: emitting extremely strong radiation that we can then detect with our telescopes”.

The research headed by Dr. Radcliffe consisted of two papers published in the international journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. The papers sought to unpack questions on what types of galaxies black holes eat and the resulting implications on how to detect such eating phases in galaxies. Dr. Radcliffe ascertained that “taken together, the absorption of matter onto the central black hole appears to be a standard ingredient in the life of a galaxy: black holes love food, but they eat in different ways”. In some instances, a black hole’s eating phase may occur simultaneously with the creation of stars.

The research undertaken also underscored that expensive space telescopes need not be the sole equipment used to study the eating habits of black holes, when the radio telescopes such as the Square Kilometre Array (based in South Africa and Australia) are sufficient.

The study conducted by the team of astronomers was undertaken on a special part of the sky, known as the GOODS-North field. This part of the sky is renowned for displaying tens of thousands of faint distant galaxies. The implications of the research allows astronomers to ascertain the link between when exactly new stars and black holes form in a single galaxy.

view posts

Susanna is currently stu(dying) genetics and joined the PDBY team in 2019. She divides her time between writing and playing with plant disease samples. Her contributions span across Science, politics and all things spicy. If you are or were in the SRC, she’s probably spammed you with messages for a story. She’s got a memory like an elephant – so she probably keeps track of student promises. Picture not to scale.