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What is the Driving Force of Galaxies The Milky Way’s Black Hole May Be the Key



This was on May 12. At nine press conferences simultaneously held around the globe, the astrophysicists presented the first images of the Black Hole at the Heart of the Milky Way. The image of the light ring around the Milky Way was first impressive. Galaxy’s central pit of darkness seemed to merely prove what experts already expected: The Milky Way’s supermassive black hole exists, it is spinning, and it obeys Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

And yet, on closer inspection, things don’t quite stack up.

From the brightness of the bagel of light, researchers have estimated how quickly matter is falling onto Sagittarius A*—the name given to the Milky Way’s central black hole. It is not happening very quickly. “It’s clogged up to a little trickle,” said Priya Natarajan, a cosmologist at Yale University, comparing the Galaxy A broken showerhead. Somehow only a thousandth of the matter that’s flowing into the Milky Way from the surrounding intergalactic medium makes it all the way down and into the hole. “That’s revealing a huge problem,” Natarajan said. “Where is this gas going? Is there a flow problem? It’s very clear that our understanding of black hole growth is suspect.”

Astrophysicists realized over the last quarter century that there is a dynamic, tight-knit relationship between several galaxies, and their black holes. “There’s been a really huge transition in the field,” says Ramesh Narayan, a theoretical astrophysicist at Harvard University. “The surprise was that black holes are important as shapers and controllers of how galaxies evolve.”

These giant holes—concentrations of matter so dense that gravity prevents even light from escaping—are like the engines of galaxies, but researchers are only beginning to understand how they operate. Gravity pulls gas and dust inward to the center of the galaxy. There, it creates a swirling disk surrounding the supermassive Black Hole, which heats up and turns into white hot plasma. This matter is then engulfed by the black hole, either in slow bursts or in drips. The energy that was released into the atmosphere can be seen as a reverberating blast of heat. Galaxy It is a feedback process. “When you grow a black hole, you are producing energy and dumping it into the surroundings more efficiently than through any other process we know of in nature,” said Eliot Quataert, a theoretical astrophysicist at Princeton University. This feedback has an impact on star formation rates, gas flow patterns and other aspects of the universe. Galaxy.

But researchers have only vague ideas about supermassive black holes’ “active” episodes, which turn them into so-called active galactic nuclei (AGNs). “What is the triggering mechanism? What’s the on/off switch? These are the fundamental questions that we’re still trying to get at,” said Kirsten Hall of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

AGN feedback has similar effects on a smaller scale to stellar feedback. This happens when a supernova explodes. These stellar engines are easily big enough to regulate small “dwarf” galaxies, whereas only the giant engines of supermassive black holes can dominate the evolution of the largest “elliptical” galaxies.

Spiral-wise, The Milky Way. GalaxyThe middle is occupied by the. It shows little activity in its middle, so there are no obvious indications of it. Galaxy It was thought that stellar feedback dominated it. Recent observations indicate that AGN feedback also shapes the home. We can study the interaction between the feedback mechanisms within our house and the specific details. Galaxy—and grappling with puzzles like the current dimness of Sagittarius A*—astrophysicists hope to figure out how galaxies and black holes coevolve in general. The Milky Way “is becoming the most powerful astrophysical laboratory,” said Natarajan. By serving as a microcosm, it “may hold the key.”

Galactic Engines

By the late 1990s, astronomers generally accepted the presence of black holes in galaxies’ centers. They could now see enough of these objects for them to calculate their mass using the motions of stars. Strange correlation was observed: The larger the a Galaxy The larger its central black hole, the more it will weigh. “This was particularly tight, and it was totally revolutionary. It seems like the black hole has some kind of message for the Galaxy,” said Tiziana Di Matteo, an astrophysicist at Carnegie Mellon University.

The correlation is surprising when you consider that the black hole—big as it is—is a scant fraction of the Galaxy’s size. (Sagittarius A* weighs roughly 4 million suns, for instance, while the Milky Way measures some 1.5 trillion solar masses.) Because of this, the black hole’s gravity only pulls with any strength on the innermost region of the Galaxy.

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