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The Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole: A Harbinger of Doom?

Figure 1. Two galaxies in the process of merging. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Figure 1. Two galaxies in the process of merging. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

By Michael Cowley

Contrary to popular belief, new work from an Australian-led study suggests that supermassive black holes may not be starving galaxies like the Milky Way to death.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Located in the centre of most massive galaxies, supermassive black holes are objects of extreme density that can be billions of times more massive than our own Sun. When surrounding gas and dust falls into these monster black holes, vast amounts of energy is released, evidence of which is observed on scales far beyond the galaxy itself. Astronomers have long suspected that this energy may stop galaxies from forming new stars.

Star formation is a crucial driver of galaxy evolution and requires copious amounts of cold gas and dust. If this material is heated, blown away or consumed by supermassive black holes, it could potentially spell doom for embryonic stars and their entire host galaxy. While these dire predictions are the consensus among many astronomers, they stem from studies that have typically been limited to observations of a small number of nearby galaxies.

Expanding the Search

To address this shortcoming, my colleagues and I released a photo album of more than 70,000 galaxies accompanied by one of the most detailed galaxy studies ever compiled (http://zfourge.tamu.edu/). Our photo album spans a period of 12 billion years, which represents more than 90% of the age of the universe. We used the 6.5-metre Magellan Baade Telescope in Chile to snap these images over 45...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.