Black holes are swallowing up their prey faster than expected!

2023-09-23 10:41:15

At the center of young galaxies, supermassive black holes garnering an insane amount of energy and luminosity absorb matter at an astonishing speed. Researchers at Northwestern University in the United States have determined that the gravitational force of some quasars is so powerful that it causes their accretion disks to tear.

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Across the UniverseUniverse, cosmic monsters ingest matter, gas and cosmic dust at the slightest fraction of a photonphoton. Many phenomena concerning black holes have been theorized over the last decades, these hypothetical objects becoming very tangible with the publication of the photo of the supermassive black hole M87* in 2019. If they are still the subject of speculation , academics from the Northwestern University, located north of Chicago, may well have discovered a new characteristic concerning them. In a study published on September 20 in The Astrophysical Journalthe researchers explain having discovered that if matter aggregates into a disk around this gravitational abyss, this disk can be violently torn apart by gravitygravity and absorbed extremely quickly, in just a few months.

A gargantuan feast

Astrophysicistsastrophysicists relied on 3D modeling of quasars to carry out their study. The term quasar refers more specifically to supermassive black holessupermassive black holes found in the active cores of young galaxiesgalaxies (AGC, Active galactic nucleus), emitting quasi-stellar radiation. A significant amount of material orbits around these quasarsquasars, forming an accretion disk composed mainly of dust and gas. “The classic theory of how accretion disks work calculates that the state of a disk evolves slowly around a black hole. But we noticed some variations, and it turns out that certain parts of the disc can be swallowed in a few months,” explains doctoral student Nick Kaaz. in a press release.

By modeling the accretion disks around quasars, researchers understood that the latter split into two parts, one internal and the other external. The two then adopt a gyroscopic movement, the internal portion of which seems to move much more quickly. The reason is simple: these large banks of matter are being swallowed up at high speed by plunging beyond the event horizon. The two parts of the accretion disk then “collide” at different angles, with the outer portion spilling material into the inner disk. The cycle repeats itself like this, offering a gargantuan feast to the black hole.

The victory of gravitational force

“Extremely bright inner regions of the disc can disappear in a very short period of time. The object then loses brightnessbrightness, before the cycle repeats. And the standard theory of accretion disks does not explain the phenomenon observed in the simulations,” notes Nick Kaaz.

Standard visualizations of a black hole’s accretion disk depict it as flat and relatively uniform. But this split can be explained in these new models by a tear caused by the significant gravitational force exerted by the black hole. For Kaaz and his collaborators, this theory could explain the extreme variations in luminosity observed in certain quasars. Discovered at the junction of the 1950s and 1960s, these objects, among the most luminous and energetic observable in the Universe, still conceal many mysteries.

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