Supermassive black holes are just one of those things in space that even the most renowned astronomers and physicists have a hard time explaining.
They’re effectively a wonder of the living universe and exist at the center of numerous known galaxies. Nevertheless, while we do know some things about them, our knowledge is always growing because we still have much to learn.
Image Credit: The University of Tokyo
Where do they come from, and how do they get so large?
A new study published in the Astrophysical Journal by author Takuma Izumi and his colleagues from both the University of Tokyo and National Institute of Technology talks a little more about what might give supermassive black holes the constant flow of matter they need to grow to their astronomically large sizes.
At the epicenter of all the activity are star formations and huge disks of gas and debris, which have been observed by astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. Astronomers wanted to know more about the correlation between these and supermassive black holes, which all seem to be forming at the centers of galaxies.
As stars get old, they eventually become supernovae, which is essentially the end of a star’s life. At this point, fusion can no longer take place and gravity finally wins in the battle against fusion in physics. The supernova is essentially a large explosion, and it propels matter, including dust, gas, and debris, omnidirectionally.
Astronomers believe this propulsion of matter probably works as a feeding ground for the supermassive black holes, pushing the matter into the general direction of the supermassive black hole and allowing its mass to increase over time.
This idea, which at this point in time is nothing more than theoretical, may prove to be a viable explanation for how supermassive black holes come to be and how they get so large compared to smaller black holes scattered throughout the universe.
"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," says Izumi.
Studying supermassive black holes isn’t easy because other galaxies are so far away from us and so they appear compact in our viewfinders. Without much detail, scientists are left to speculate until our space observation technology improves further.