30 May 2016

Scientists from Universidad de Chile solve mystery around Black Holes

The discovery was published in the last edition of the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. In the article the scientists quantify the radiation captured by the clouds that surround the Black Holes while they feed.

Sci-fi movies and TV shows like ‘Interstellar’ or ‘Star Trek’ have brought Black Holes from the depths of the universe to our living rooms. This time, after months of hard work and using last generation computers, the scientists from Universidad de Chile  discovered something that contemporary astrophysics did not know.

‘We made a huge amount of calculations in supercomputers that simulated the interaction between light and matter surrounding Supermassive Black Holes (with large amounts of mass, thousands of millions higher than our Sun), which are known as Active Galactic Nuclei’, explains Marko Staleveski, postdoctoral researcher of the Astronomy Department from Universidad de Chile’s Mathematic and Physics Faculty of Science, and first author of the research.

“Before the study we knew that when Black holes fed, that is to say when something fell to its centre, ‘the material reached high temperatures and and issued radiation. What we did not know was what amount of that radiation was captured by the gas and dust cloud that surrounded the object (named by the researchers as ‘Toro’). We were able to measure that, simulate it in our computers and realize that it retained far less the amount we thought”, the scientist explains.

For Paulina Lira, astrophysicist from Universidad de Chile and one of the authors of the publication, this discovery is specially relevant because it ‘allows us to know how Black Holes grow while they feed. If we do not know how much radiation is intercepted by the cloud surrounding the object, then it would be impossible to properly quantify that amount. This paper allowed us to know that’.

What is next?

‘Our idea is for other astronomers to take our results and apply them to their own Black Hole studies, so we have a better understanding of how they are born and how they grow from the beginning of the universe until today’, says Professor Lira, Ph.D.

The research is available on the website of the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Oxford University Press.

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