ASTRONOMERS have made a breakthrough in understanding how galaxies form.
It comes after Durham University researchers found a new way of measuring the spin in supermassive black holes.
The scientists observed a black hole – with a mass 10million times that of our Sun – at the centre of a spiral galaxy 500million light years from Earth, while it was feeding on the surrounding disc of material that fuels its growth and powers its activity.
By viewing optical, ultra-violet and soft x-rays generated by heat as the black hole fed, they were able to measure how far the disc was from it.
This distance depends on black hole spin as a fast-spinning one pulls the disc in closer to itself, the researchers said.
Using the distance between the black hole and the disc, the scientists were able to estimate the spin of the hole.
Black holes lie at the centres of almost all galaxies, and can spit out incredibly hot particles at high energies that prevent intergalactic gases from cooling and forming new stars in the outer galaxy.
Scientists don’t yet understand why the jets are ejected into space, but the Durham experts believe their power could be linked to the spin of the black hole.
Professor Chris Done, in the Department of Physics, said: “Understanding this connection between stars in a galaxy and the growth of a black hole, and vice-versa, is key to understanding how galaxies form throughout cosmic time.”