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
Sport
John Terry puts Chelsea ahead
football
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David performs in his play ‘Fish in the Dark'
theatreFish in the Dark has already generated a record $14.5m in advance ticket sales
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tvReview: Too often The Casual Vacancy resembled a jumble of deleted scenes from Hot Fuzz
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
news
Arts and Entertainment
Jemima West in Channel 4's Indian Summers (Joss Barratt/Channel 4)
tvReview: More questions and plot twists keep viewers guessing
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003