PhD student Randall Dannen (Physics & Astronomy) has recently demonstrated a novel method to create clouds around black holes. To appear in May as a letter in the prestigious Astrophysical Journal, the work led by Dannen was co-authored with astronomy professor Daniel Proga (his PhD adviser), UNLV postdoctoral researcher Tim Waters, and Sergei Dyda of the University of Cambridge). It combines methodology from both observational and theoretical disciplines to address an outstanding problem in the field of active galactic nuclei (AGN).
At the center of every massive galaxy, there exists a supermassive black hole (SMBH). When the gas around these SMBHs starts to fall in, it shines exceptionally bright. In fact, AGN are the most energetic long-lived objects in the universe. As a consequence of this immense release of energy, some material that is falling onto SMBHs can be ejected, forming AGN winds. These winds can extend all the way out to galactic scales, where astronomers see that rather than the flow being smooth, there exist discrete clumps. However, it has been challenging to form these clouds in state of the art computational models. Thus, this discovery of how to form clouds in numerical simulations is a major development.