The supermassive black holes lurking at the centre of our - and every other - galaxy are growing surprisingly quickly, researchers say.

Black holes are initially formed by stars as they collapse, when lots of matter is compacted by gravity into a very small area.

The biggest black holes are found at the core of galaxies, where they are almost unimaginably huge - some contain 17 billion times the mass of our sun.

One black hole known to exist at the heart of the M104 galaxy (aka 'The Sombrero galaxy') has swallowed the equivalent of one sun every 20 years, according to Space.com.

It had been thought that these dark monsters were 'fed' by new matter at irregular intervals, when galaxies collide.

But now there is new evidence that instead most of these giant black holes are being fed continually be small meals of gas and other types of matter.

Simulations run by the University of Central Lancashire show that supermassive black holes, including those at the centre of the Milky Way, are more likely to grow in efficient, gradual terms and not in dramatic bursts.

They compared the mass of black holes in spiral galaxies compared to those in elliptical ones, and found there is no difference in how big they are - indicating the rate of growth is the same whether a galaxy has a violent history of dramatic collisions or not.

"These simulations show that it is no longer possible to argue that black holes in spiral galaxies do not grow efficiently," study lead author Victor Debattista said in a statement.

"Our simulations will allow us to refine our understanding of how black holes grew in different types of galaxies."

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  • Jet in Carina

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