The swirling disks of material that surround supermassive black holes are likely home to massive stars, neutron stars, and black holes. A new study explores whether we can detect the signatures of fiery explosions produced by these uniquely situated stars and stellar remnants.
An Unusual Home
Artist’s illustration of two merging black holes embedded in the gas disk surrounding a supermassive black hole. [Caltech/R. Hurt (IPAC)]Recently, scientists detected gravitational waves from the merger of unexpectedly large black holes. One proposed explanation — that these monsters grew to their large sizes while embedded within the accretion disk surrounding an even larger supermassive black hole — has piqued interest in studying the evolution of stars hosted within the violent disks of these active galactic nuclei (AGN).
AGN accretion disks are dense, turbulent environments that produce bright, high-energy radiation as disk material spirals inwards toward the black hole. Yet these seemingly hostile surroundings may still host stars that arise either in situ — the gas within accretion disks can become unstable and fragment into self-gravitating clumps that become stars — or are captured from the nuclear star cluster that surrounds an AGN.
Once stars form or are trapped in an AGN ...