Why supermassive black holes are too greedy for their own good

Illustration for article titled Why supermassive black holes are too greedy for their own good

The galaxy Markarian 231 is dying, and its own supermassive black hole is ripping it apart. The black hole is absorbing so much material and spewing so much dust and gas back out that star formation has been completely disrupted.


The black hole at the heart of Mrk 231 is about ten million solar masses, or roughly three times the mass of the black hole at the center of our galaxy. The galaxy itself is currently in the middle of a merger with another galaxy, and the collision is not going well. So much dust and gas is headed towards the Mrk 231 black hole that it can't absorb it all, sending a chunky percentage right back into the galaxy.

This process has created huge quasars, incredibly bright streams of radiation travelling at about 2.2 million miles per hour. This is venting gas from the inner regions of Mrk 231 at about 2.5 times the rate stars can form. This means no new stars will be born in the inner regions, and soon enough the entire galaxy will be composed of nothing but aging, dying stars. Mrk 231 will someday be what is known as a "red and dead" galaxy, because of the reddish tinge such galaxies have when seen through a telescope.

Via Space.com. Artist's conception of the center of Mrk 231 by Lynette Cook.


One of the things I have always pondered in an idle, offhand kind of way, is what the sky would look like if we had a shot of it with the stars and galaxies positionally corrected for time and motion.

I mean, all of the ... stuff ... in the sky is moving all of the time (sometimes at pretty incredible speeds) and some of it is being born and some of it is dying all of the time.

Because of the limitations of the speed of light, the further-away objects are actually pretty well displaced from their apparent positions by the time the light reaches us. Some no longer exist (vis). Some, though, are pretty close to current positions.

I have wondered what the sky would look like if everything were positionally corrected so that, speed-of-light-be-damned, all of the component stuff were depicted in true spacial relationship as if the universe were a globe of manageable dimensions.

Although, I bet it would spell out "Eat at Milliway's" ...

So perhaps it's best we never know.