MadSci Network: Astronomy

Re: What happens when supermassive blackholes pull in all matter?

Date: Fri Sep 21 06:59:43 2007
Posted By: Donald Terndrup, Faculty, Astronomy, Ohio State University
Area of science: Astronomy
ID: 1187892239.As

Supermassive black holes are found in the very centers (the nuclei) of
large galaxies.  We don't know of any supermassive black holes that are
found elsewhere, so these are all quite far apart.  The (centers of) our
Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda spiral galaxy are over 2 million light
years apart.

In general, black holes are not giant vacuum cleaners that suck in all
matter.  They will absorb anything that lands on them, but black holes are
quite small in diameter and so they can only absorb a small amount of
matter at a time.  For example, the black hole at the center of the Milky
Way has a mass of about 2 million times the mass of the Sun.  That sounds
like a lot, but it has taken the entire history of the Universe (about 14
billion years) for the black hole to grow to that mass.  At this average
rate, it takes 7000 years to absorb as much mass as the Sun has.

Now galaxies do sometimes merge, and the black holes at their centers
probably merge also, but the rate of mergers is also low.  So it's not the
case that all the supermassive black holes will merge together into one big
one that contains all the matter in the Universe.

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