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Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), believe clouds of dust, rather than twin black holes, can explain the features found in active galactic nuclei (AGNs). The team publish their results today (14 June) in a paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Many large galaxies have an AGN, a small bright central region powered by matter spiralling into a supermassive black hole. When these black holes are vigorously swallowing matter, they are surrounded by hot, rapidly-moving gas known as the "broad-line region" (so-called because the spectral lines from this region are broadened by the rapid motion of the gas).
Emission - Gas - Sources - Information - Mass
The emission from this gas is one of the best sources of information about the mass of the central black hole and how it is growing. The nature of this gas is however poorly understood; in particular there is less emission than expected from gas moving at certain velocities. The breakdown of simple models has led some astrophysicists to think that many AGNs might have not one but two black holes in them.
The new analysis is led by Martin Gaskell, a research associate in astronomy and astrophysics at UCSC. Rather than invoking two black holes, it explains much of the apparent complexity and variability of the emissions from the broad-line region as the results of small clouds of dust that can partially obscure the innermost regions of AGNs.
Gaskell - Comments - Lot - Properties - Nuclei
Gaskell comments: "We've shown that a lot of mysterious properties of active galactic nuclei can be explained by these small dusty clouds causing changes in what we see."
Co-author Peter Harrington, a UCSC graduate student who began work on the project as an undergraduate, explained that gas spiralling towards a galaxy's central black hole forms a flat "accretion disk," and the superheated gas in the accretion disk emits intense thermal radiation. Some...
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