Unstable gas clouds circling black holes in opposite directions can help them grow faster because they suck faster, a new study suggests.
The researchers came to this conclusion after observing such counter-rotating clouds in the distant galaxy NGC 1068, which was analyzed by radio telescopes in Chile.
The findings may explain how supermassive black holes – which existed even in the young universe – can evolve in such a short time frame.
NGC 1068 – also known as Messier 77 – is a spiral galaxy that lies about 47 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the Jet constellation.
The center is active – it contains a supermassive black hole that constantly feeds on the environment, a rotating disk of dust and gas.
Previous observations have revealed that the hole also delivers gas at speeds of more than one million miles per hour (about 1.6 million kilometers per hour).
This gas hides the black hole from optical telescopes – which means that radio telescopes are needed to look good.
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Unstable gas clouds circling black holes in opposite directions can help them grow faster because they suck faster, a new study suggests. In the picture, gas clouds orbiting the supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy NGC 1068
Astronomer Violeta Impeleceri from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia and her colleagues used Arakama's Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Array (ALMA) to conduct a detailed study of NGC 1068.
"Thanks to the spectacular resolution of ALMA, we measured the movement of gasoline in the inner orbits around the black hole," said Dr. Impelzeceri.
"Surprisingly, we found two gas discs rotating in opposite directions."
The inner disk is about 2-4 light-years wide and rotates in the same direction as the surrounding galaxy.
In contrast, the larger outer disc – which stretches for about 4–22 light years – revolves in the opposite direction.
"We did not expect to see this, because the gas falling into a black hole would normally rotate around it in only one direction," Dr Impelizaberi explained.
"Something has to disrupt the flow because it is impossible for one part of the disk to start rotating itself."
Such counter-rotational flows are not uncommon phenomena in space.
& # 39; We see [them] in galaxies, usually thousands of light years away from their galactic centers, "said paper co-author and astrophysicist Jack Galimor of Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
"The counter-rotation always results from the collision or interaction between two galaxies."
"What makes this result remarkable is what we see on a much smaller scale, tens of light years instead of thousands in the central black hole."
Astronomer Violeta Impeleceri from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia and her colleagues used Arakama Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Array (ALMA) to conduct a detailed study of NGC 1068, image
In the case of NGC 1068, the researchers believe that the residual flow could have been formed from a small transient galaxy trapped in the disk, or alternatively from clouds that had fallen out of the galaxy.
"The counter-rotating currents of gas are unstable, which means that clouds fall into the black hole faster than they do in a single-direction drive," said Dr. Impalizade.
"This could be a way for the black hole to grow rapidly."
The findings may explain how supermassive black holes – which existed even in the young universe – can evolve in such a short time frame. Pictured, NGC 1068, a spiral galaxy located about 47 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the Jet constellation
For now, the outer disk of the black hole appears to be in stable orbit around the inner disk, researchers say.
"This will change when the outer disk begins to fall on the inner disk, which may occur after several orbits or hundreds of thousands of years," Professor Galimor said.
"The rotating gas currents will collide and become unstable, and the discs are likely to collapse in a luminous event as the molecular gas falls into the black hole."
"Unfortunately, we won't be there to witness fireworks," he lamented.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Astrophysical Journals.
WHAT IS ALMA?
Deep in the Chilean desert, the Great Atacama Millet, or ALMA, is located in one of the driest places on Earth.
At 16,400 meters above sea level, about half the height of the Jembo Jet cruise and nearly four times the height of Ben Nevis, workers had to carry oxygen tanks to complete their construction.
Launched in March 2013, it is the world's most powerful telescope based in the world.
It is also the highest on the planet and, at almost £ 1 billion ($ 1.2 billion), one of the most expensive of its kind.
Deep in the Chilean desert, the Great Atacama Millet, or ALMA, is located in one of the driest places on Earth. Launched in March 2013, it is the world's most powerful telescope based in the world