The means by which scary black holes at the centers of most galaxies suck up gas from their surroundings by overcoming centrifugal force has now been pinned down by astronomers. Two researchers found that stars take swirling gases towards a galaxy’s central point, bringing them close enough for the black hole to gobble them up. “Although supermassive black holes wield an enormous tug on their immediate surroundings, astronomers have been uncertain how these astrophysical beasts manage to pull in the large amounts of gas they absorb from their host galaxies. A key problem is that gas swirling rapidly around a black hole has enormous angular momentum, which creates a centrifugal force that can slow or halt the material from edging toward the abyss. Generally, black holes easily swallow up gas that approaches to less than a third of a light-year from the galactic center, because the black hole’s own magnetic field acts like a brake, slowing down the rotational motion of the gas and causing it to fall in.”
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