Quirks & Quarks

How does a black hole eat? With its spiral arms

A new supercomputer simulation shows how a galaxy’s spiral arms help to funnel gas into its central supermassive black hole by slowing it down and enabling it to fall inside.

Spiral arms slow down gas moving through the universe, funnelling it into the black hole

This handout image of the giant, active galaxy NGC 1275 was taken using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. New research shows how a galaxy's spiral arms can slow down gas moving through the Universe, allowing it to fall into the black hole below. (NASA/ESA via Getty Images)

Black holes are known for being voracious eaters, devouring anything in their path. Now, a new supercomputer simulation is helping researchers understand how a galaxy's spiral arms play an integral role in that feeding process.

Developed in part by University of Connecticut researcher Daniel Anglés-Alcázar, the simulation models the gas flow of a galaxy with 1,000 times better resolution than previously possible.

The research was published in the journal The Astrophysical Journal.

The supercomputer simulation allows researchers to zoom in on black holes to study how gas flows around the galaxy. (University of Connecticut/Daniel Anglés-Alcázar)

While other simulations have modelled black hole growth, this is the first single computer simulation powerful enough to account for the numerous forces that are a part of the evolution of supermassive black holes, such as the movement of gases around stellar objects, and the influence of supernovae.

Daniel Anglés-Alcázar is an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Connecticut. Listen to his interview with Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald at the link above.

Produced by Amanda Buckiewicz


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