For The First Time, The Roiling Mass Circling a Monster Black Hole Has Been Measured

One of the wonders of the universe is an active supermassive black hole.

A massive, whirling disk and torus of material around a dense, unseen object that may be billions of times as massive as the Sun. The object is blazing with light as it swirls down onto the heart of the black hole. How large do these buildings become, though?In a galaxy known as III Zw 002, located 1.17 billion light-years distant, the edges of the vast accretion disk encircling a supermassive black hole hundreds of millions of times the mass of our Sun have been clearly detected for the first time.

The accretion disk may be seen out to around 52 light-days from the black hole thanks to these discoveries, which were made under the direction of astronomer Denimara Dias dos Santos of the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research. This measurement will help us understand the mechanism of feeding huge black holes better.

Reconstructing the material surrounding a black hole is a challenging task. Despite their size and the dazzling surrounding material, they are still too tiny for us to discern much detail in due to the distances between us and their galaxy.

Since it is impossible to photograph the material directly, light from the galaxy it surrounds is examined for certain signs that point to the existence of an accretion disk.

The so-called double peak in the emission spectrum is one of such indicators. Rotation is what causes this to happen. When an excited atom loses energy, it emits light, the wavelength of which varies depending on the atom's element. This glow is known as emission.

Think of an accretion disk surrounding a black hole as a record on a turntable with this in mind. There is a disk that is travelling away from you and a disk that is coming towards you. Light is pushed by the portion of the disk travelling in our direction, shortening its wavelengths, while light is stretched by the portion moving away from us.

This indicates that a particular element's emission manifests at two wavelengths, creating a double peak in the spectrum.

Prior detections of double peaks surrounding supermassive black holes have come from a location called the narrow-line area, which is comparatively near to the black hole. This provides only limited information about the accretion disk's whole extent.

Two double peaks were discovered by Dias dos Santos and her associates; they were located in the wide line section of the accretion disk, which is located considerably further out from the black hole than the narrow line zone.

This is the first time that twin peaks have been found in the wide line area and with a near-infrared sensor.

Scientist Alberto Rodriguez-Ardila of the National Astrophysics Laboratory in Brazil states, "For the first time, the detection of such double peaked profiles puts firm constraints on the geometry of a region that is otherwise not possible to resolve."

"And we now possess convincing proof of an active galaxy's inner structure and feeding mechanism."

Hydrogen was the first double peak to emerge from the inner portion of the wide line. According to modeling, this was 16.77 light-days away from the black hole.

The second, an oxygen detection, came from the periphery of the area, around 18.86 light-days away from the black hole. Additionally, the modeling indicates that the wide line zone is located 52.43 light-days away from the black hole.

9,078 astronomical units are that. Pluto is located 40 astronomical units from the Sun, to put that into perspective.

That seems enormous, and it is, but it is in line with efforts to quantify the size of accretion disks by measuring light echoes that reflect off the inner rim of the torus; the researchers refer to this size as "compact" in their work.

The group will keep an eye on the galaxy to determine if its current behavior conforms to their forecasts.

"This finding sheds light on the fascinating phenomena occurring around supermassive black holes in active galaxies and gives us valuable insights into the structure and behavior of the broad line region in this particular galaxy," adds Rodriguez-Ardila.

The research has been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.