For the first time, scientists have accidentally measured the swirling ring around a black hole

An artistic interpretation of a black hole’s accretion disk

For the first time ever, scientists have been able to measure the exact size of the disk of matter orbiting a supermassive black hole. This serendipitous discovery could help expand our knowledge of how these cosmic forces grow and how the galaxies around them evolve over time.

Accretion disks are huge, swirling rings of superheated gas, dust, and plasma that swirl around them black holes Or other massive cosmic bodies, such as pulsars. The disks surrounding black holes consist of the shredded remnants of stars, exoplanets, and other material that has been torn apart as it is being pulled toward the event horizon, the point beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape the black hole’s gravity. When the accretion discs rotate, they emit a group of Electromagnetic radiation Including X-rays, infrared, radio waves, and visible light, making it the only part of a black hole that astronomers can detect.

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Accumulation discs are shown more clearly in Infrared Domain. The rotating clumps emit what the researchers call a double peak, a pair of energy spikes of excited hydrogen gas emitted from the two halves of the accretion disk — the half that rotates away from the observer and the half that rotates toward them. These double peaks originate from the edge of the accretion disk closest to the event horizon, which means they can show where spinning disks start but not where they end.

But in a new study published on Aug. 8 Astrophysical Journal LettersResearchers detected a second double peak coming from the outer edge of the accretion disk surrounding supermassive black hole III Zw 002, which lies more than 22 million light-years from Earth and has a mass at least 400 million times the mass of our planet. sun. Based on the double peaks they observed, the researchers calculated that the radius of the accretion disk around III Zw 002 is about 52.4 light-days, which is more than 9,000 times the distance from Earth to the Sun.

Diagram showing infrared emissions above a supermassive black hole.

Diagram showing infrared emissions above a supermassive black hole.

The researchers weren’t looking for the second double band around III Zw 002 when they made this discovery. Instead, the team was collecting data to confirm the presence of the cumulative disk It was first discovered in 2003.

The researchers used the Gemini Near Infrared Spectrometer (GNIRS). Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii to capture the new data. GNIRS measures a slightly wider range of wavelengths than is normally seen in normal infrared light and can detect emissions at different wavelengths simultaneously, which enabled the team to detect the second double peak.

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At first, the researchers didn’t believe what they found, but it soon became clear to them. “We reduced the data several times thinking it might be wrong, but each time we saw the same exciting result,” study co-author Alberto Rodriguez ArdillaAn astronomer at the Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics in prof statement.

The researchers believe that this discovery could play an important role in helping to unlock the secrets of supermassive black holes.

“The discovery of such double-peaked features places severe limitations on the geometry of the region that cannot be resolved otherwise,” said Rodríguez-Ardilla. He added that this will enable researchers to observe “the feeding process and the internal structure of an active galaxy” for the first time.

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The team will continue to monitor the accretion disk around III Zw 002 to see how it grows over time.

This isn’t the only major breakthrough scientists have made in understanding accretion disks this year. And in May, researchers revealed that Create artificial accretion discs from plasma in vitro For the first time ever. The pseudo-rings only last for a split second, but they do indicate how the accretion discs form.

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