An international team of astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope found a thin disk whirling around a supermassive black hole 130 million light-years away, but the disk shouldn't exist there based on current theories.
A Hubble Space Telescope image of the spiral galaxy NGC 3147 appears next to an artist's illustration of the supermassive black hole residing at the galaxy's core. [Credits: Hubble Image: NASA, ESA, S. Bianchi (Università degli Studi Roma Tre University), A. Laor (Technion-Israel Institute of Technology), and M. Chiaberge (ESA, STScI, and JHU); illustration: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild and L. Hustak (STScI)]
The study published on Thursday in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society showed that the donut-shaped disk encircling a malnourished black hole with inadequate material for its fodder unexpectedly mimics those much more powerful disks found in extremely active galaxies with monster black holes.
The astronomers initially selected this galaxy to validate a theory that an accretion disk forms when ample amounts of gas are trapped by a black hole but the disk tend to break down and become fainter once less material is pulled into the disk, according to NASA.
"It's the same type of disk we see in objects that are 1,000 or even 100,000 times more luminous. The predictions of current models for gas dynamics in very faint active galaxies clearly failed," said the paper's co-author Stefano Bianchi with Universita degli Studi Roma Tre in Italy.
Also, the disk is so deeply embedded in the black hole's intense gravitational field that the light from the gas disk is modified, giving astronomers a unique look at the dynamic processes close to a black hole.
"We've never seen the effects of both general and special relativity in visible light with this much clarity," said the paper's co-author Marco Chiaberge with Johns Hopkins University.