Nav: Home

Simulating supermassive black holes

March 30, 2016

Near the edge of the visible Universe are some of the brightest objects ever observed, known as quasars, which are believed to contain supermassive black holes of more than a billion times the mass of our Sun. Simulations by Kentaro Nagamine at Osaka University's Department of Earth and Space Science, Isaac Shlosman at the University of Kentucky and co-workers have revealed for the first time exactly how these black holes formed 700 million years after the Big Bang.

"The early Universe was a dense, hot and uniform plasma," explains Nagamine. "As it cooled, fluctuations in the mass distribution formed seeds around which matter could gather due to gravity." These are the origins of the first stars. Similar processes might have later seeded the growth of bigger structures such as supermassive black holes.

Until recently, many researchers thought supermassive black holes were seeded by the collapse of some of the first stars. But modeling work by several groups has suggested that this process would only lead to small black holes. Nagamine and co-workers simulated a different situation, in which supermassive black holes are seeded by clouds of gas falling into potential wells created by dark matter -- the invisible matter that astronomers believe makes up 85% of the mass of the Universe.

Simulating the dynamics of huge gas clouds is extremely complex, so the team had to use some numerical tricks called 'sink particles' to simplify the problem.

"Although we have access to extremely powerful supercomputers at Osaka University's Cybermedia Center and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, we can't simulate every single gas particle," explains Nagamine. "Instead, we model small spatial scales using sink particles, which grow as the surrounding gas evolves. This allows us to simulate much longer timescales than was previously possible."

The researchers found that most seed particles in their simulations did not grow very much, except for one central seed, which grew rapidly to more than 2 million Sun-masses in just 2 million years, representing a feasible path toward a supermassive black hole. Moreover, as the gas spun and collapsed around the central seed it formed two misaligned accretion discs, which have never been observed before.

In other recent work, Nagamine and co-workers described the growth of massive galaxies that formed around the same time as supermassive black holes [1]. "We like to push the frontier of how far back in time we can see," says Nagamine. The researchers hope their simulations will be validated by real data when NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, due to be launched in 2018, observes distant sources where direct gas collapse is happening.
-end-
1. Yajima, H., Shlosman, I., Romano-Díaz, E. & Nagamine, K. Observational properties of simulated galaxies in overdense and average regions at redshifts z?6-12. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 451, 418-432 (2015).

Osaka University

Related Supermassive Black Holes Articles:

Large simulation finds new origin of supermassive black holes
Computer simulations conducted by astrophysicists at Tohoku University in Japan, have revealed a new theory for the origin of supermassive black holes.
Supermassive black holes shortly after the Big Bang: How to seed them
They are billions of times larger than our Sun: how is it possible that supermassive black holes were already present when the Universe was 'just' 800 million years old?
The turbulent life of two supermassive black holes caught in a galaxy crash
An international team of astronomers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to create the most detailed image yet of the gas surrounding two supermassive black holes in a merging galaxy.
Going against the flow around a supermassive black hole
At the center of a galaxy called NGC 1068, a supermassive black hole hides within a thick doughnut-shaped cloud of dust and gas.
Massive filaments fuel the growth of galaxies and supermassive black holes
Based on direct observations researchers have discovered massive filaments between galaxies in a proto-cluster, extending over more than 1 million parsecs and providing the fuel for intense formation of stars and the growth of super massive black holes within the proto-cluster.
Pair of supermassive black holes discovered on a collision course
Astronomers have spotted a pair of supermassive black holes on a collision course in a galaxy 2.5 billion light-years away.
Researchers decipher the history of supermassive black holes in the early universe
Astrophysicists at Western University have found evidence for the direct formation of black holes that do not need to emerge from a star remnant.
Cool, nebulous ring around Milky Way's supermassive black hole
New ALMA observations reveal a never-before-seen disk of cool, interstellar gas wrapped around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
Astronomers discover 83 supermassive black holes in the early universe
Astronomers from Japan, Taiwan and Princeton University have discovered 83 quasars powered by supermassive black holes that were formed when the universe was only 5 percent of its current age.
Tel Aviv University-led team discovers new way supermassive black holes are 'fed'
A new Tel Aviv University-led study published today in Nature Astronomy finds that some supermassive black holes are 'triggered' to grow, suddenly devouring a large amount of gas in their surroundings.
More Supermassive Black Holes News and Supermassive Black Holes Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#566 Is Your Gut Leaking?
This week we're busting the human gut wide open with Dr. Alessio Fasano from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Join host Anika Hazra for our discussion separating fact from fiction on the controversial topic of leaky gut syndrome. We cover everything from what causes a leaky gut to interpreting the results of a gut microbiome test! Related links: Center for Celiac Research and Treatment website and their YouTube channel
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Flag and the Fury
How do you actually make change in the world? For 126 years, Mississippi has had the Confederate battle flag on their state flag, and they were the last state in the nation where that emblem remained "officially" flying.  A few days ago, that flag came down. A few days before that, it coming down would have seemed impossible. We dive into the story behind this de-flagging: a journey involving a clash of histories, designs, families, and even cheerleading. This show is a collaboration with OSM Audio. Kiese Laymon's memoir Heavy is here. And the Hospitality Flag webpage is here.