The mystery of quasars' quick flare-ups may now be explained.
The universe is full of wonders, and among them, the eating patterns of supermassive black holes are undergoing a paradigm shift. Contrary to earlier beliefs that these cosmic giants consume slowly, recent simulations suggest they eat much faster.
Northwestern University’s groundbreaking study titled “Nozzle shocks, disk tearing and streamers drive rapid accretion in 3D GRMHD simulations of warped thin disks,” published in The Astrophysical Journal, challenges previous theories.
High-resolution 3D simulations reveal that spinning black holes distort space-time, leading to the disintegration of the gas whirlpool, known as the accretion disk, that feeds them. The black holes consume the inner disk, then debris from the outer one rushes in, refilling the gap. This eat-refill cycle is swift, debunking earlier estimates spanning hundreds of years.
Quasars: The Bright Mysteries of Space
The new findings could unveil the erratic behaviors of quasars, luminous objects that illuminate and disappear mysteriously. As Nick Kaaz from Northwestern notes, quasars, especially those with changing looks, deviate massively in brightness in a short time. This doesn’t align with classical accretion disk theory, but the new simulations could offer an explanation.
Historically, researchers believed accretion disks were orderly, moving in alignment with the black hole’s spin. This assumption is being overturned. “Changing the alignment drastically changes the picture,” claims Kaaz.
One of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, Summit at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was employed to run these high-resolution simulations. The detailed model incorporated gas dynamics, magnetic fields, and general relativity.
Black holes exert such strong gravitational forces that they drag space-time along. This results in the entire disk wobbling like a gyroscope, leading to collisions and bright shocks that push material towards the black hole.
The Cycle of Consumption
The black hole’s spinning leads to intense interactions between inner and outer subdisks. As the black hole feeds on the inner disk, gravity then pulls gas from the outer regions to refill the inner void, initiating the rapid eat-refill cycle.
The cycles may shine a light on “changing-look” quasars. These objects emit colossal amounts of energy and show fluctuations in brightness over short durations. Traditional theories couldn’t explain these variations, but the new findings provide potential answers.
Understanding the feeding process of black holes could unlock answers to other questions about these enigmatic entities. “Knowing this will inform how bright it appears when we observe it with telescopes,” concludes Kaaz.
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