Supermassive black holes were first postulated as the energy sources of quasars after their discovery in 1963 as the most luminous objects in the universe. By 1995, the existence of black holes was established and in 2002 we confirmed suspicions, held since the 1970s, that we shared our own galaxy, the Milky Way, with a black hole many millions of times the mass of our sun.

There is now thought to be a supermassive black hole in the centre of every large galaxy. Bigger galaxies have bigger black holes, but the precise relation, and the dependency on a galaxy’s structure, requires further investigation.   

Black holes have long held a fascination for scientists given their incredible density and gravity, capable of tearing stars in half, not to mention their influence on time. Our astronomers are investigating questions such as:

  • What is the relation between host galaxy mass and supermassive black holes mass?
  • How are supermassive black holes formed and how fast do they grow?
  • How do they power quasars and drive apparently superluminal jets?
  • Where is the missing population of “intermediate mass” black holes? 

Swinburne astronomers also search for gravitational wave emission from supermassive black holes in binary orbits by monitoring sets of ultra-stable millisecond pulsars with the most sensitive radio telescopes in the world. 

Did you know?

Astronomers at Swinburne discovered that the mass of a supermassive black hole depends upon the type of galaxy, spiral or elliptical, in which it resides.

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Our projects

Observational studies of massive black holes 

We are discovering connections between the Universe's massive black holes and their host galaxies. By carefully analysing archival Hubble (optical) and Spitzer (infrared) satellite images, we are learning how the black hole's mass relates to the galaxy's morphology, and therefore how they co-evolved.

Using the space-based Chandra X-ray Observatory with our collaborators, we are also pursuing the discovery of a missing population of smaller black holes 100 to 100,000 times the Sun's mass. We also use the ground-based Keck Telescopes to measure black hole masses. Contact Profesor Alister Graham for more information.


The MeerTime project is a five-year program on the MeerKAT array, led by Swinburne, which will regularly time over 1000 radio pulsars to perform tests of relativistic gravity, search for the gravitational-wave signature induced by supermassive black hole binaries in the timing residuals of millisecond pulsars, explore the interior of neutron stars through a pulsar glitch monitoring programme, explore the origin and evolution of binary pulsars, monitor the swarms of pulsars that inhabit globular clusters, and monitor radio magnetars.

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Parkes Pulsar Timing Array

Swinburne is a foundation partner in the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array project, which monitors 24 millisecond pulsars with the iconic 64-metre Parkes radio telescope for the primary goal of studying the low-frequency gravitational wave universe. 

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Bigger galaxies have bigger black holes, but the precise relation, and the dependency on a galaxy’s structure, requires further investigation. 
Image credit: James Josephides (
Swinburne Astronomy Productions) and Professor Alister Graham.

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