Black holes: Hungry for stars

(EndPlay Staff Reports) - Scientists and astronomers have long been puzzled by the diet needed to bulk up supermassive black holes. New research from the University of Utah and Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics answers this question.

Apparently, black holes increase in mass and diameter by a hefty intake of stars. Research suggests that "black holes grow enormously as a result of sucking in captured binary star partners," according to Utah's Prof. Ben Bromley, who authored the study.

"I believe this has got to be the dominant method for growing supermassive black holes," Bromley told the University of Utah News Center. "There are two ways to grow a supermassive black hole: with gas clouds and with stars. Sometimes there's gas and sometimes there is not. We know that from observations of other galaxies. But there are always stars."

A news release from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics explains the study. Bromely and his colleagues examined "each step in the process of a supermassive black hole eating binary stars" and then figured out what would have to happen in the process to match their observations.

Based on their calculations, their theory suggests that the Milky Way's supermassive black hole has doubled, maybe quadrupled, in size over the past 5 to 10 billion years on its diet of stars.

The study hit the web in the online journal Astrophysical Journal Letters on Monday. Read it online here .

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