Can Planets Orbit a Black Hole the Same Way They Orbit Stars? New Astrophysical Models Say It's Possible

Tuesday, 26 November 2019 - 9:24AM
Astrophysics
Black Holes
Tuesday, 26 November 2019 - 9:24AM
Can Planets Orbit a Black Hole the Same Way They Orbit Stars? New Astrophysical Models Say It's Possible
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Credit: Kagoshima University
What if planets orbit a black hole the same way they orbit stars? According to Phys.Org, that is precisely the question that scientists seek to answer using groundbreaking theoretical models. Their paper on the subject was recently accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal, which focuses on innovative astrophysical research and modeling.


Our latest models of planetary formation indicate that – as far as we know, at least – they form from debris in a giant cloud of dust and gas surrounding a newborn star that eventually flattens out to form what is called the protoplanetary disc.


But did you know that other structures in the universe also feature similar dust and gas clouds? Black holes – especially the supermassive kind located in the center of a galaxy – have what is called an accretion disc that surrounds them. Anything the black hole can't suction into its maw shatters into debris and dust that orbits the gravitational abyss for eternity. They can be up to 1 billion times the size of a protoplanetary disc and, according to theorists, could form planets over hundreds of millions of years.


According to Professor Eiichiro Kokubo, a coauthor of the study and an educator at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, "Our calculations show that tens of thousands of planets with 10 times the mass of the Earth could be formed around 10 light-years from a black hole…Around black holes, there might exist planetary systems of astonishing scale."


We don't have any way to prove this yet, of course, but it's the kind of fascinating theory that makes you fall in love with astrophysics all over again. By discovering that the impossible is, in fact, very possible, we catch a glimmer of hope that the same sort of limitless potential that governs our stars might also be true for us, in its own way.


A copy of the paper can also be found on Cornell University's arXiv.
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