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Beyond Earthly Skies

Supermassive Stars around Supermassive Black Holes

7 Apr 2014, 22:00 UTC
Supermassive Stars around Supermassive Black Holes ESO/M. Kornmesser
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Quasars are the most energetic and luminous objects known in the universe. These objects are powered by supermassive black holes (SMBH) accreting matter at prodigious rates in the centres of massive galaxies. SMBHs have masses ranging from ~100 million to billions of times the Sun’s mass. Due to the high accretion rates, the accretion disk surrounding a SMBH that is powering a quasar contains a tremendous amount of mass. A number of studies have proposed that exotic supermassive stars may form in such an accretion disk, somewhat like how planets form in protoplanetary disks around young stars.This artist’s impression shows how ULAS J1120+0641, a very distant quasar powered by a black hole with a mass two billion times that of the Sun, may have looked. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser.Beyond a few hundred to a few thousand Schwarzschild radii from the central SMBH, a quasar’s accretion disk becomes self-gravitating. The term “Schwarzschild radius”, is a unit of measurement, where a value of one Schwarzschild radius is the distance from a black hole where the escape speed would equal the speed of light. A self-gravitating accretion disk can fragment into gravitationally bound clumps and form very massive stars with masses easily exceeding a ...

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