Cosmic, Clumpy Doughnut May Reveal More About Supermassive Black Holes

First Posted: Dec 18, 2015 11:39 AM EST

Researchers have discovered a cosmic, clumpy doughnut in our universe. Created by one of the more massive black holes in the universe, this "space doughnut" may tell researchers a bit more about the black hole itself.

"Originally, we thought that some black holes were hidden behind walls or screens of material that could not be seen through," said Andrea Marinucci, lead author of the new study, in a news release.

In this case, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) peered inside one of the densest of these doughnuts known to surround a supermassive black hole. This black hole lies at the center of a well-studied spiral galaxy, called NGC 1068, which is located about 47 million light-years away in the Cetus constellation.

"The rotating material is not a simple, rounded doughnut as originally thought, but clumpy," said Marinucci.

In the past decade, astronomers have been finding hints that these doughnuts around black holes aren't as smoothly shaped as once thought. They're more like defective, lumpy doughnuts that a doughnut shop might throw away.

This latest discovery, though, is the first time that this clumpiness has been seen in an ultra-thick doughnut, and supports the idea that this phenomenon may be common. The research is important for understanding the growth and evolution of massive black holes and their host galaxies.

"We don't fully understand why some supermassive black holes are so heavily obscured or why the surrounding material is clumpy," said Poshak Gandhi, one of the researchers. "This is a subject of hot research."

The findings reveal a bit more about these black holes. More specifically, the new findings tell scientists more about a black hole's effects on the material surrounding it.

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