Subaru provides new insights to supermassive black holes


Astronomers using Hawaii Island’s Subaru Telescope conducted research that yielded some unexpected results about supermassive black holes.

The researchers “figured out a method of differentiating the black hole from star formation,” Subaru spokeswoman Suzanne Frayser said. “They wanted to identify supermassive black holes. The other important finding was that all supermassive black holes don’t have the same features.”

Researcher Masatoshi Imanishi said he found at least one active supermassive black hole in all but one of the 29 bright, gas-rich merging galaxies they studied, but discovered those supermassive black holes did not all actively accumulate mass, and the rates at which the black holes were accumulating mass varied.

Scientists have in the past speculated on the frequency with which supermassive black holes occur. Frayser said more recent research shows they are “ubiquitous,” showing up often in galaxies, including the Milky Way.

Subaru used the Infrared Camera and Spectrograph to capture images of the supermassive black holes. Using infrared observational technology allows scientists to see through dust and gas that typically blocks optical telescopes from seeing activity in the disk swirling around the black hole, Subaru officials said in announcing the discovery.

“The merger of gas-rich galaxies with SMBHs in their centers not only causes active star formation but also stimulates mass accretion onto the existing SMBHs,” officials said. “When material accretes onto a SMBH, the accretion disk surrounding the black hole becomes very hot from the release of gravitational energy, and it becomes very bright. How this so-called ‘active galactic nucleus activity’ differs and varies from the generation of energy within stars provides clues of how galaxies come together.”