Researchers on Thursday unveiled the most detailed black hole simulation yet which has helped solve a 40-year-old cosmic mystery.

Just months ago, humans saw its first glimpse of the event horizon of a black hole.

Now, an international team of researchers has created a detailed simulation using a supercomputer and some custom-built code. The simulation proves theoretical predictions about the nature of accretion disks.

The accretion disk is the matter that swirls around and into the black hole.

“We put a black hole inside of a computer and drop gas on it,”
said Northwestern’s Alexander Tchekhovskoy, who co-led the research. “Initially, the gas orbits around the black hole at a plane tilted relative to the black hole equator. However, over time the inner regions of the disk align with the equatorial plane, revealing the alignment.

The simulation helped solve the mystery over how the star-devouring monsters consume matter.

The theory, known as the Bardeen-Petterson effect, first published in 1975, proposed that the inner-most region of a spinning black hole would eventually align with the black hole’s equatorial plane.

Now, the team proved the theory was right.

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The team’s simulation found that the outer region of an accretion disk remains tilted. However, the disk’s inner region aligns perfectly with the black hole. A smooth warp connects the inner and outer regions.

The team confirmed the mystery by thinning the accretion disc to an unprecedented degree. They also included the magnetized turbulence that causes the disc to accrete.

“This groundbreaking discovery of Bardeen-Petterson alignment brings closure to a problem that has haunted the astrophysics community for more than four decades,” said Tchekhovskoy.

“These details around the black hole may seem small, but they enormously impact what happens in the galaxy as a whole. They control how fast the black holes spin and, as a result, what effect black holes have on their entire galaxies.”

The simulation also proved that despite thin accretion discs, the black hole still emitted powerful jets of particles and radiation.

“These simulations not only solve a 40-year-old problem, but they have demonstrated that, contrary to typical thinking, it is possible to simulate the most luminous accretion disks in full general relativity,” Liska, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam’s Anton Pannenkoek Institute for Astronomy and the paper’s first author, said.

“This paves the way for a next generation of simulations, which I hope will solve even more important problems surrounding luminous accretion disks.”

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