Supermassive black hole model predicts characteristic light signals at cusp of collision

phys.org | 2/14/2018 | Staff
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A new simulation of supermassive black holes—the behemoths at the centers of galaxies—uses a realistic scenario to predict the light signals emitted in the surrounding gas before the masses collide, said Rochester Institute of Technology researchers.

The RIT-led study represents the first step toward predicting the approaching merger of supermassive black holes using the two channels of information now available to scientists—the electromagnetic and the gravitational wave spectra—known as multimessenger astrophysics. The findings appear in the paper "Quasi-periodic Behavior of Mini-disks in Binary Black Holes Approaching Merger," published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Simulation - Accretion - Disk - Hole - Feeds

"We've performed the first simulation in which an accretion disk around a binary black hole feeds individual accretion disks, or mini-disks, around each black hole in general relativity and magnetohydrodynamics," said Dennis Bowen, lead author and postdoctoral researcher at RIT's Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation.

Unlike their less massive cousins, first detected in 2016, supermassive black holes are fed by gas disks that surround them like doughnuts. The strong gravitational pull of the black holes that inspiral toward one another heats and disrupts the flow of gas from disk to black hole and emits periodic signals in the visible to X-ray portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Holes - Close - Bowen - Hints - Mergers

"We have not yet seen two supermassive black holes get this close," Bowen said. "It provides the first hints of what these mergers will look like in a telescope. The filling and refilling of mini-disks affect the light signatures."

The simulation models supermassive black holes in a binary pair, each surrounded by its own gas disks. A much larger gas disk encircles the black holes and disproportionately feeds one mini-disk over another, leading to the filling-and-refilling cycle described in the paper.

Evolution - Science - Outcome - Manuela - Campanelli

"The evolution is long enough to study what the real science outcome would look like," said Manuela Campanelli, director of the Center for Computational Relativity...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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