New simulations reveal how supermassive black holes formed

Scientists have now confirmed the existence of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies. This recent revelation, combined with the release of captivating black hole images, has sparked intense curiosity about these enigmatic cosmic phenomena while also bolstering Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

These supermassive black holes boast masses ranging from millions to billions of solar masses. Remarkably, some of them formed within a billion years after the Big Bang. The rapid growth of these black holes in such a short span has been a crucial area of interest in modern astrophysics.

A research team consisting of Chi-Hong Lin, Ke-Jung Chen from the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Academia Sinica (ASIAA), and Chorng-Yuan Hwang from the Institute of Astronomy at National Central University has achieved significant breakthroughs in the formation theory of supermassive black holes. Their research findings have been published in The Astrophysical Journal.

To understand the growth of these colossal black holes and their impact on host galaxies, the team employed high-resolution simulations of galaxy mergers. They introduced a new model of molecular clouds and discovered that the growth of black holes primarily occurs through the accretion of these clouds during galaxy mergers.

The dynamics of gravitational forces enable massive molecular clouds to efficiently fall into the galactic center, outpacing the infall of neutral and ionized gases. This phenomenon leads to a rapid increase in star formation within the galaxy and provides the necessary resources for the black hole’s accelerated growth.

As a result, black holes that originally weighed only a few million solar masses can burgeon to billions of solar masses in just a few hundred million years. This explanation successfully accounts for the observed properties of merging galaxies and their associated black holes. The team’s work sheds light on the fascinating processes that drive the evolution of galaxies and the formation of supermassive black holes throughout the universe.

(Left) Arp 148 is a galaxy with a peculiar structure formed after the collision of two galaxies, where a large amount of material falls into the center of the galaxies, giving rise to its unique appearance. Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team. (Right) A simulation of the formation of Arp 148. When two disk galaxies collide head-on, a significant amount of molecular clouds is accreted into the central region, providing fuel for the central black hole. Simultaneously, this process triggers a burst of star formation in the central region of the galaxy. These simulation results match well with the observed features of Arp 148. Credit: Chi-Hong Lin/ASIAA

“Through this research, we have unveiled a plausible mechanism behind the swift expansion of black holes and highlighted the crucial role played by molecular clouds during galaxy mergers,” stated Ke-Jung Chen, a key researcher involved in the study.

Lead author Chi-Hong Lin expressed, “Our findings provide invaluable insights into the evolution of galaxies, offering a deeper understanding of these cosmic processes. We eagerly anticipate further observational results that can corroborate and strengthen our conclusions.”

The team’s work not only sheds light on the fascinating growth of supermassive black holes but also enriches our knowledge of how galaxies evolve over cosmic timescales. With ongoing observations and advancements in astronomical techniques, the research community eagerly awaits new data that can further validate and refine the remarkable discoveries made by Chi-Hong Lin, Ke-Jung Chen, and their team.

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