Computer sims and observations change how scientists view supermassive black holes

Researchers have made a new discovery the changes how supermassive black holes are thought to operate. The discovery is based on computer simulations and new observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). What the scientists have found is that the rings of gas surrounding active supermassive black holes are not simple donut shapes as previously believed.

The new data shows that gas expelled from the center interacts with infalling gas to create a dynamic circulation pattern similar to a water fountain in a mall or park. Scientists previously thought that as the black hole swallowed material the matter built up around the active black hole forming a donut structure.

Scientist Takuma Izumi, a researcher from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, led a team of astronomers that used ALMA to observe a supermassive black hole in the Circinus Galaxy 14 million light-years away from Earth. The team compared ALMA observations with a computer simulation of gas falling towards a black hole created using a Cray XC30 ATERUI supercomputer.

The comparison found that the "donut" is not a rigid structure but a complex collection of "highly dynamic" gaseous components. Cold molecular gas falls back towards the black hole near the plane of rotation. The gas is then heated until molecules break down into component atoms and ions.

Some atoms are then expelled above and below the disk rather than being absorbed. That hot atomic gas then galls back onto the disk creating a turbulent 3D structure. The components circulate continuously similar to a water fountain in a city park.