from the world's big
Researchers from Japan add a new wrinkle to a popular theory and set the stage for the formation of monstrous black holes.
- A new theory takes the direct-collapse theory explaining the creation of supermassive black holes around which galaxies turn ones step further.
- The advance is made possible by a super-powerful computer, ATERUI II.
- The new theory is the first that accounts for the likely assortment of heavy elements in early-universe gas clouds.
It seems that pretty much every galaxy we see is spinning around a supermassive black hole. When we say "supermassive," we mean BIG: Each is about 100,000 to tens of billions times the mass of our Sun. Serving as the loci around which our galaxies twirl, they're clearly important to maintaining the universal structures we see. It would be nice to know how they form. We have a pretty good idea how normally-huge-but-not-massive black holes form, but as for the supermassive larger versions, not so much. It's a supermassive missing piece of the universe puzzle.
Now, in research published in Monthly Notices of the Astronomical Society, astrophysicists at Tohoku University in Japan reveal that they may have solved the riddle, supported by new computer simulations that show how supermassive black holes come to be.
The direct collapse theories
Glowing gas and dark dust within the Large Magellanic Cloud
Image source: ESA/Hubble and NASA
The favored theory about the birth of supermassive black holes up to now has been the "direct-collapse" theory. The theory proposes a solution to a cosmic riddle: Supermassive black holes seem to have been born a mere 690 million years after the Big Bang, not nearly long enough for the standard normal black hole genesis scenario to have played out, and on such a large scale. There are two versions of the direct-collapse theory.
One version proposes that if enough gas comes together in a supermassive gravitationally bound cloud, it can eventually collapse into a black hole, which, thanks the cosmic background-radiation-free nature of the very early universe, could then quickly pull in enough matter to go supermassive in a relatively short period of time.
According to astrophysicist Shantanu Basu of Western University in London, Ontario, this would only have been possible in the first 800 million years or so of the universe. "The black holes are formed over a duration of only about 150 million years and grow rapidly during this time," Basu told Live Science in the summer of 2019. "The ones that form in the early part of the 150-million-year time window can increase their mass by a factor of 10 thousand." Basu was lead author of research published last summer in Astrophysical Journal Letters that presented computer models showing this version of direct-collapse is possible.
Another version of the theory suggests that the giant gas cloud collapses into a supermassive star first, which then collapses into a black hole, which then — presumably again thanks to the state of the early universe — sucks up enough matter to go supermassive quickly.
There's a problem with either direct-collapse theory, however, beyond its relatively narrow time window. Previous models show it working only with pristine gas clouds comprised of hydrogen and helium. Other, heavier elements — carbon and oxygen, for example — break the models, causing the giant gas cloud to break up into smaller gas clouds that eventually form separate stars, end of story. No supermassive black hole, and not even a supermassive star for the second flavor of the direct-collapse theory.
A new model
Image source: NAOJ
Japan's National Astronomical Observatory has a supercomputer named "ATERUI II" that was commissioned in 2018. The Tohoku University research team, led by postdoctoral fellow Sunmyon Chon, used ATERUI II to run high-resolution, 3D, long-term simulations to verify a new version of the direct-collapse idea that makes sense even with gas clouds containing heavy elements.
Chon and his team propose that, yes, supermassive gas clouds with heavy elements do break up into smaller gas clouds that wind up forming smaller stars. However, they assert that's not the end of the story.
The scientists say that post-explosion, there remains a tremendous inward pull toward the center of the ex-cloud that drags in all those smaller stars, eventually causing them to grow into a single supermassive star, 10,000 times larger than the Sun. This is a star big enough to produce the supermassive black holes we see when it finally collapses in on itself.
"This is the first time that we have shown the formation of such a large black hole precursor in clouds enriched in heavy-elements," says Chon, adding, "We believe that the giant star thus formed will continue to grow and evolve into a giant black hole."
Modeling the behavior of an expanded number of elements within the cloud while faithfully carrying forward those models through the violent breakup of the cloud and its aftermath requires such high computational overhead that only a computer as advanced as ATERUI II could pull off.
Being able to develop a theory that takes into account, for the first time, the likely complexity of early-universe gas clouds makes the Tohoku University idea the most complete, plausible explanation of the universe's mysterious supermassive black holes. Kazuyuki Omukai, also of Tohoku University says, "Our new model is able to explain the origin of more black holes than the previous studies, and this result leads to a unified understanding of the origin of supermassive black holes."
Why did the dinosaurs go extinct? Because they didn't have a space program.
- Space exploration is more than just the ultimate adventure, our study and investigation of space yields great scientific rewards, says astronaut Garrett Reisman.
- Earth is wonderful, but it won't last forever, so it's important that we maintain a big picture view to ensure the survival of the human species.
- Exploring space is our ticket to "the ultimate plan B," according to Reisman. If there were to occur a mass extinction event on Earth, the humans that inhabit another planet in our solar system will be the only hope of human survival.
A new study rocks prevailing theories on antimatter in the early Universe.
- Scientists from around the world teamed up to study the properties of neutrons.
- They were able to achieve extremely precise measurements of electric compasses in neutrons.
- The results challenge current theories of why antimatter and matter didn't destroy each other in the early Universe.
Big Bang and early Universe expansion.<video controls id="48c47" width="100%" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1cc57721e1cc0d1bca05b2566cf9ec20" expand="1" feedbacks="true" mime_type="video/quicktime" shortcode_id="1584289870921" url="https://roar-assets-auto.rbl.ms/runner%2F16413-12656_Big_Bang_1080.mov" videoControls="true"> <source src="https://roar-assets-auto.rbl.ms/runner%2F16413-12656_Big_Bang_1080.mov" type="video/mp4"> Your browser does not support the video tag. </video><p>Credit: NASA</p>
Apparatus for Measuring the Neutron's EDM.
Credit: University of Sussex
What can old stars teach us about the birth of our galaxy? ...<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="bvAUsslf" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="90e470671cf8a92e47bc6b878b7eeb9c"> <div id="botr_bvAUsslf_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/bvAUsslf-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/bvAUsslf-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/bvAUsslf-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
What caused the Big Bang? Consider the beer bottle.<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="rw40bN5r" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="6e6f9f10145fd67e7ff6d0fdb23333f1"> <div id="botr_rw40bN5r_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/rw40bN5r-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/rw40bN5r-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/rw40bN5r-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
These needles in the vast galactic haystack take more effort to find, but they help piece together our origins.
- With billions of stars in our galaxy, why should astronomers seek out the oldest ones?
- Age-dating stars is a complicated process, so astronomers use chemical compositions, telescopes, and prisms to determine the age of these ancient stars.
- Some telescopes used for this purpose are in extremely remote places, where you can observe the bright band of the Milky Way with the naked eye.
The idea that celestial objects exist within utterly immense cosmic structures is becoming inescapable.
- New findings in astronomy are making some astronomers doubt our basic model of the universe.
- Alignments of celestial objects suggest that they may be embedded in large-scale structures.
- Galaxies too far apart to be influencing each other are moving through space together.
Large-scale structures<p>The existence and mechanics of large-scale structures are a tantalizing puzzle with obviously major implications for our understanding of the universe. As <a href="https://www.aip.de/Members/nlibeskind/" target="_blank">Noam Libeskind</a>, of the Leibniz-Institut for Astrophysics (AIP) in Germany tells <a href="https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/zmj7pw/theres-growing-evidence-that-the-universe-is-connected-by-giant-structures?fbclid=IwAR3vGbN5k3ehfflhtfhqDWRTZYKFV55qWDFcdeNg7qzehMuWUzYxOD6DYW8" target="_blank"><em>VICE</em></a>, "That's actually the reason why everybody is always studying these large-scale structures. It's a way of probing and constraining the laws of gravity and the nature of matter, dark matter, dark energy, and the universe."</p><p>The identification and study of large-scale structures is a product of analyzing and modeling simulations of redshift survey for specific regions of the sky that visually reveal these immense structures.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA4ODYyOC9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMTUwMTQ5MH0.KnP-GRi_1yBZiXoHMb5jun8nyd9JTjE6l1dsVvhXfoA/img.gif?width=980" id="57f4d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1139438b67af96a95f9a031265ad3783" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The large-scale structures revealed in one segment of sky
Billions of light years apart<p>Several pieces of research are causing interest in these large-scale structures to heat up. The most mind-blowingly distant synchronized motion was reported in 2014, when the rotation axes of 19 super-massive black holes at the centers of quasars — out of 100 quasars studied — were found to be in alignment, <em>billions</em> of light years apart. <a href="https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/zmj7pw/theres-growing-evidence-that-the-universe-is-connected-by-giant-structures?fbclid=IwAR3vGbN5k3ehfflhtfhqDWRTZYKFV55qWDFcdeNg7qzehMuWUzYxOD6DYW8" target="_blank">According to</a> the study's lead author, astronomer <a href="http://www.reflexions.uliege.be/cms/c_24506/en/hutsemekers-damien" target="_blank">Damien Hutsemékers</a> of the University of Liège in Belgium, "Galaxy spin axes are known to align with large-scale structures such as cosmic filaments but this occurs on smaller scales. However, there is currently no explanation why the axes of quasars are aligned with the axis of the large group in which they are embedded."</p><p>The first word of the research paper's title, "<a href="https://www.eso.org/public/usa/news/eso1438/" target="_blank">Spooky Alignment of Quasars Across Billions of Light-years</a>," invokes cosmic-scale quantum entanglement as a possible explanation.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA4OTQwOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTk0MTAwNn0.TcAZhf_nH7rSDCWMzIFIjD8hXEe8c36AYOscWWqZYNA/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=59%2C315%2C420%2C24&height=700" id="feb4b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9ccbeb20699df395705756fc71594ec7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: orin/Shutterstock/Big Think
Galaxies of a feather<p>Astronomer <a href="https://www.iau.org/administration/membership/individual/15249/" target="_blank">Joon Hyeop Lee</a> of the Korea Astronomy and Space Institute is the lead author of "Mysterious Coherence in Several-megaparsec Scales between Galaxy Rotation and Neighbor Motion," published in October of this year in <a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/1538-4357/ab3fa3" target="_blank"><em>Astrophysical Journal</em></a>. Comparing data from two catalogs of redshift survey data — the Calar Alto Legacy Integral Field Area (CALIFA) and NASA-Sloan Atlas (NSA) catalogs — the researchers' analysis of 445 galaxies revealed, surprisingly, that galaxies six meparsecs, or 20 million light years, apart were moving in the same way. Those observed, for example, a galaxy moving toward the Earth was mirrored by other distant galaxies moving in the same direction.</p><p>"This discovery is quite new and unexpected," according to Lee, "I have never seen any previous report of observations or any prediction from numerical simulations, exactly related to this phenomenon."</p><p>Since the galaxies are too distant for their gravitational fields to be influencing each other, Lee poses another explanation: That the linked galaxies are both embedded within the same, large-scale structure.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA4ODY0OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMjUwMDE0Nn0.xFyTGeG4n7A22n3yyPTnceCxBFfnRAKhtWNPF8bBmu8/img.jpg?width=980" id="53057" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dc8830a93273645666a9098fd6def756" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: sripfoto/Shutterstock/Big Think