Massive Black Holes and Quasars: Unraveling the Mysteries

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At the center of galaxies, like our own , lie massive black holes surrounded by spinning gas. Some shine brightly, with a continuous supply of fuel, while others go dormant for millions of years, only to reawaken with a serendipitous influx of gas. It remains largely a mystery how gas flows across the universe to feed these massive black holes.

University of Connecticut Assistant Professor of Physics Daniel Anglés-Alcázar, lead author on a paper published recently in The Astrophysical Journal, addresses some of the questions surrounding these massive and enigmatic features of the universe by using new, high-powered simulations.

“Supermassive black holes play a key role in galaxy evolution and we are trying to understand how they grow at the centers of galaxies,” says Anglés-Alcázar. “This is very important not just because black holes are very interesting objects on their own, as sources of and all sorts of interesting stuff, but also because we need to understand what the central black holes are doing if we want to understand how galaxies evolve.”

Anglés-Alcázar, who is also an Associate Research Scientist at the Flatiron Institute Center for Computational Astrophysics, says a challenge in answering these questions has been creating models powerful enough to account for the numerous forces and factors that play into the process. Previous works have looked either at very large scales or the very smallest of scales, “but it has been a challenge to study the full range of scales connected simultaneously.”

Galaxy formation, Anglés-Alcázar says, starts with a halo of dark matter that dominates the mass and gravitational potential in the area and begins pulling in gas from its surroundings. Stars form from the dense gas, but some of it must reach the center of the galaxy to feed the . How does all that gas get there? For some black holes, this involves huge quantities of gas, the equivalent of ten times the mass of the sun or more swallowed in just one year, says Anglés-Alcázar.

“When supermassive black holes are growing very fast, we refer to them as quasars,” he says. “They can have a mass well into one billion times the mass of the sun and can outshine everything else in the galaxy. How quasars look depends on how much gas they add per unit of time. How do we manage to get so much gas down to the center of the galaxy and close enough that the black… Brinkwire News Summary.

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