Supermassive Black Holes Bring Their Own Gas

Scientists have revealed that dense molecular gas disks at the centers of galaxies supply gas to the supermassive black holes situated within them.

AsianScientist (Oct. 16, 2016) – Japanese researchers and their collaborators have revealed that dense molecular gas disks located at the centers of galaxies supply gas to supermassive black holes situated within them. This finding was published in the Astrophysical Journal.

Supermassive black holes more than a million times the mass of our sun exist at the centers of many galaxies, but how they came to be is unclear. Meanwhile, a correlation between the rate at which stars form in the central regions of galaxies, and the amount of gas that falls into supermassive black holes, was known to exist—leading some scientists to suggest that the activity involved in star formation fuels the growth of black holes.

The joint research team, led by graduate student and JSPS fellow Mr. Takuma Izumi from the University of Tokyo, has revealed for the first time that dense molecular gas disks, occupying regions as large as a few light years at the centers of galaxies, are supplying gas directly to the supermassive black holes. Izumi’s team came up with the findings with the help of observational data collected by the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array in Chile and other telescopes.

The team also succeeded in explaining with a theoretical model that the actual changes in gas levels they observed were the result of the increasing amount of gas falling into the supermassive black holes within the gas disks. The falling gas was enhanced by strong turbulence generated by supernova explosions—an activity associated with star formation—when a star inside the dense gas disks dies.

“The central regions of faraway galaxies, comprising a few light years in scale, are hard to observe in detail because of their compactness, and there haven’t been many studies showing how black holes grow due to the lack of extensive research. So, this outcome is a big step forward as we successfully revealed one aspect of that process,” said Izumi.

The findings provide important insights into the growth of supermassive black holes over cosmic time.

The article can be found at: Izumi et al. (2016) Do Circumnuclear Dense Gas Disks Drive Mass Accretion onto Supermassive Black Holes?


Source: University of Tokyo.
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