ALMA Telescope Finds a Gaseous 'Donut' Around a Black Hole

Saturday, 17 February 2018 - 4:54PM
Space
Black Holes
Saturday, 17 February 2018 - 4:54PM
ALMA Telescope Finds a Gaseous 'Donut' Around a Black Hole
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ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)
While black holes aren't always the largest objects in the universe, even if they are the most massive, there are still some absolutely enormous and supermassive black holes out there which shouldn't be forgotten.

One of them is the supermassive black hole at the center of the distant galaxy M77, about 47 million lightyears away from Earth. The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), an extremely powerful telescope located in Chile, recently took some images of this black hole and the giant gaseous structure surrounding it.

The best description is to call it a giant "gas donut," and while its existence has been predicted for a long time, ALMA was able to get a fairly close look at it.




A study recently published in Astrophysical Journal Letters explains that the existence of compact gaseous discs around black holes would explain several quirks relating to "active galactic nuclei", when a galaxy's matter is constantly sucked toward the supermassive black hole in the galaxy's center (much like M77). They can play a big role in a galaxy's development (getting eaten by a black hole will do that) which makes them important to study.

This one doesn't exactly match the model, as it's more complicated than expected, but it's close enough that astronomers are excited about the find. Masatoshi Imanishi, a scientist from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and the study's lead author, said the following in a press release:

Opening quote
"To interpret various observational features of AGNs, astronomers have assumed rotating donut-like structures of dusty gas around active supermassive black holes. This is called the 'unified model' of AGN. However, the dusty gaseous donut is very tiny in appearance. With the high resolution of ALMA, now we can directly see the structure."
Closing quote




Now that ALMA has some photos, more research will need to be done, to see how connected it might be to other quirks of black holes, like their accretion disks or how some of them seem to "burp" out matter.

As long as they're at a safe distance, black holes can be fascinating. They'd be fascinating up close too, but not in a good way.
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