Unseen Galactic Cannibalism
Radio-telescope images have revealed previously-unseen galactic cannibalism -- a triggering event that leads to feeding frenzies by gigantic black holes at the cores of galaxies. Astronomers have long suspected that the extra-bright cores of spiral galaxies called Seyfert galaxies are powered by supermassive black holes consuming material. However, they could not see how the material is started on its journey toward the black hole.
One leading theory said that Seyfert galaxies have been disturbed by close encounters with neighboring galaxies, thus stirring up their gas and bringing more of it within the gravitational reach of the black hole. However, when astronomers looked at Seyferts with visible-light telescopes, only a small fraction showed any evidence of such an encounter. Now, new images of hydrogen gas in Seyferts made using the National Science Foundation's Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope show the majority of them are, in fact, disturbed by ongoing encounters with neighbor galaxies.
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