In the early days of our universe, the gravity of an ultra-bright galaxy pulled streams of dust and gas from nearby galaxies to power its supermassive black hole and associated bright quasar. Now, for the first time ever, researchers have observed this cosmic interaction.

When gravitational forces shepherd material like dust and gas into a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy, that material grinds together and emits energy that’s observed as a quasar. A quasar is the active center of a galaxy where a supermassive black hole shoots out jets of gas. Dusty quasars are a particular flavor of quasars that are also embedded in a blanket of dust that absorbs and re-emits the energy generated by the supermassive black hole.

Now, a new imaging analysis of W2246-0526 — the most luminous galaxy discovered to date — shows how, in the early universe, this galaxy’s gravity pulled in dust and gas from three other nearby galaxies. The stolen material helped power W2246-0526’s quasar and black hole and shrouded it in dust. This analysis could show how luminous galaxies, in general, might feed their supermassive black holes while also obscuring their black holes and quasars with dust.

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