(ORDO NEWS) — A groundbreaking study led by Northwestern University has upended previously thought about the eating habits of supermassive black holes.
Contrary to generally accepted beliefs, these cosmic giants are absorbing surrounding matter much faster than previously thought. The results obtained from high-resolution simulations provide insight into the mysterious behavior of quasars and could fundamentally change our understanding of these mysterious objects.
The study, published September 20 in The Astrophysical Journal, provides new insight into the feeding frenzy of supermassive black holes. If it was previously assumed that black holes absorb matter slowly, simulations have shown that this process occurs much faster.
Simulations show that spinning black holes bend the surrounding space-time, causing a turbulent swirl of gas known as an accretion disk to be torn apart. As a result, internal and external subdisks are formed. First, the black hole devours the inner ring, and then debris from the outer subdisk spills in to fill the gap. This eat-give-eat cycle occurs over the course of a few months, which is shockingly fast compared to previous estimates of hundreds of years.
The implications of this discovery are far-reaching. It could help explain the puzzling behavior of quasars, which are among the brightest objects in the night sky. Quasars show sudden flashes and then disappear without explanation. The rapid waxing and waning observed in these objects is consistent with the destruction and replenishment of the inner regions of the accretion disk, as suggested by the simulations.
Nick Kaaz, lead author of the study, explains: “Classical accretion disk theory predicts that the disk evolves slowly. However, some quasars appear to change dramatically over short periods of time. The phenomena we observe in our simulations potentially may explain this. The rapid increase and decrease in brightness corresponds to the destruction of the inner regions of the disk.”
Accretion disks surrounding black holes are notoriously complex, making them difficult to accurately model. Previous assumptions that these disks were ordered and gradually fed the black hole over long periods of time turned out to be wrong. New simulations demonstrate the chaotic nature of these disks, shedding light on their unpredictable behavior.
The implications of this research extend beyond astrophysics. Understanding the feeding habits of supermassive black holes is critical to understanding the evolution of galaxies and the role that black holes play in the formation of the Universe. This groundbreaking research opens up new avenues of study and challenges existing theories, paving the way for a deeper understanding of these cosmic phenomena.
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