Featured Image: How Do Supermassive Black Holes Eat?

We know that the supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies can ensnare nearby gas and consume it; we see the doomed gas glow brightly as it advances toward the black hole. But exactly how a black hole’s meal makes its way toward the waiting gravitational maw isn’t clear. Are small gas clumps plucked at random from larger gas clouds, or does gas assemble into an orderly disk before falling into the black hole? In a recent research article, a team led by Minghao Guo (郭明浩) from Princeton University used fluid dynamics simulations to explore how gas accretes onto the supermassive black hole at the center of the massive elliptical galaxy Messier 87. The images above each show a region 6,500 light-years across that is centered on the supermassive black hole, with a zoomed-in 650-light-year region shown in the corner. The images show the two main pathways of cold gas accretion: chaotic accretion (left), which occurs only 10% of the time, and disk accretion (right), which is the dominant way for cold gas to be accreted. To learn more about the dynamics of gas accretion near a black hole, be sure to read the full article linked below.


“Toward Horizon-scale Accretion onto Supermassive Black Holes in Elliptical Galaxies,” Minghao Guo et al 2023 ApJ 946 26. doi:10.3847/1538-4357/acb81e