New Research Solves Key Mystery in the Birth of Massive Black Holes

A new study, supported by funding from NASA, the National Science Foundation and a grant from the European Commission, suggests that massive black holes thrive when galaxies form very quickly.

This image shows a 30,000 light-year region from the Renaissance Simulation, centered on a cluster of young galaxies that generate radiation (white) and metals (green) while heating the surrounding gas.

Conclusions of the simulation-based study, reported January 23 in the journal Nature and supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, the European Union and NASA, also finds that massive black holes are much more common in the universe than previously thought.

The key criteria for determining where massive black holes formed during the universe’s infancy relates to the rapid growth of pre-galactic gas clouds that are the forerunners of all present-day galaxies, meaning that most supermassive black holes have a common origin forming in this newly discovered scenario, said John Wise, an associate professor in the Center for Relativistic Astrophysics in Georgia Tech’s School of Physics and the paper’s corresponding author.

The research was based on the Renaissance Simulation suite, a 70-terabyte data set created on the Blue Waters supercomputer between 2011 and 2014 to help scientists understand how the universe evolved during its early years.

The improved resolution of the simulation done for two candidate regions allowed the scientists to see turbulence and the inflow of gas and clumps of matter forming as the black hole precursors began to condense and spin.

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