And they got a surprise. Contrary to expectations, the supermassive black hole in NGC 3147 has a thin disk.
“We saw this was the best candidate to confirm that below certain luminosities, the accretion saucer doesn’t exist anymore, ” co-author Ari Laor of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology said in a statement. “What we understood was something completely unexpected. We received gas in motion producing peculiarities we can explain only as being produced by material rotate in a thin saucer very close to the black hole.”
The type of disk seen here is expected to occur in supermassive black holes that have luminosities 1,000 if not 100,000 times higher than what is seen in NGC 3147. The models clearly need to be revised to include this new discovery.
And while this is a blow to our conjectures about how supermassive black hole should behave, it is also a incredible opportunity to study both special and general relativity at the same time. The researchers note that since the thin disk is unobstructed by a puffy echoing, they have been able to study both ideologies in visible light at once.
“This is an intriguing peek at a disk close to a black hole, so close that the velocities and the ferocity of the gravitational drag are influence how the photons of light look, ” added first writer Stefano Bianchi of Universita degli Studi Roma Tre. “We cannot understand the data unless we include the theories of relativity.”
The material is very close to the supermassive black hole, whose gravitational pull has warped space-time around itself. The disk is in this gravitational well and twistings around the black hole at about 10 percent of the speed of light. This is enough for the visible light from the saucer to be brighter in the part of the saucer moving towards Earth and dimmer in the component moving away.
NGC 3147 is located 130 million light-years away. It is a stunning spiral galaxy, greater than the Milky Way, that elongates 140,000 light-years across.