Galaxies may owe their existence to black holes

Black holes may play a far more important role in the evolution of the universe than scientists had previously realised, according to a study suggesting that these massive and mysterious structures in space could have been key to the formation of the earliest galaxies.

Scientists have used supercomputers to simulate what would have happened in the early universe when two galaxies collided.

They found that the collision quickly forms a "supermassive" black hole with a mass many millions of times greater than that of the sun.

The gravitational fields of supermassive black holes are so great that no cosmic objects, not even light, can escape them if they stray too close.

Until now, it was thought that they played only a secondary role in the formation and evolution of galaxies, but the latest research suggests they are in fact central players.

Cosmologists also previously believed that galaxies formed in a gradual, hierarchical fashion, with clumps of matter coming together to form stronger centres of gravity that would pull in further matter, eventually forming new constellations of stars.

However, the computer simulation suggested that galaxy formation occurs far more rapidly than this gradual process and that it may at least in part be driven by the formation of supermassive black holes, which are believed to exist at the centre of most galaxies, including our own Milky Way.

"The standard idea that a galaxy's properties and the mass of its central black hole are related because the two grow in parallel will have to be revised," said Stelios Kazantzidis of Ohio State University, who was part of the research team whose study is published in the journal Nature.

"In our model, the black hole grows much faster than the galaxy. So it could be that the black hole is not regulated at all by the growth of the galaxy. It could be that the galaxy is regulated by the growth of the black hole," Dr Kazantzidis said.

The universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years old. The new computer simulations suggest that the first supermassive black holes formed when early galaxies began to collide with one another within the first few billion years after the universe began following the Big Bang.

"Our results add a new milestone to the important realisation of how structure forms in the universe," Dr Kazantzidis said. "Together with these other discoveries, our result shows that big structures, both galaxies and massive black holes, build up quickly in the history of the universe. Amazingly, this is contrary to hierarchical structure formation."

Astronomers believe that the earliest stars in the universe were many times larger than present-day stars, some 300 times the mass of the sun for instance, a feature that had to be built in to the computer simulations.

The computer simulations of the cosmic collisions were also far more detailed than previous simulations – the new ones contained features that were 100 times smaller than earlier studies. Dr Kazantzidis said the work should help the search for the elusive gravity ripples in space, the "gravitational waves" predicted by Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, but never detected.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Louis van Gaal
football
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own