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Going Against the Flow Around a Supermassive Black Hole

20 Oct 2019, 21:06 UTC
Going Against the Flow Around a Supermassive Black Hole
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At the center of a galaxy called NGC 1068, a supermassive black hole hides within a thick doughnut-shaped cloud of dust and gas. When astronomers used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to study this cloud in more detail, they made an unexpected discovery that could explain why supermassive black holes grew so rapidly in the early Universe.“Thanks to the spectacular resolution of ALMA, we measured the movement of gas in the inner orbits around the black hole,” explains Violette Impellizzeri of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), working at ALMA in Chile and lead author on a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal. “Surprisingly, we found two disks of gas rotating in opposite directions.”Supermassive black holes already existed when the Universe was young – just a billion years after the Big Bang. But how these extreme objects, whose masses are up to billions of times the mass of the Sun, had time to grow in such a relatively short timespan, is an outstanding question among astronomers. This new ALMA discovery could provide a clue. “Counter-rotating gas streams are unstable, which means that clouds fall into the black hole faster than they do in a disk with a single rotation ...

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