Institute of Astronomy

Forming Supermassive Black Holes

Black holes are among the most fascinating phenomena thought to exist in the Universe. A black hole is a region of space in which the gravitational field is so powerful that nothing, not even light, can normally escape its pull after having fallen past its event horizon. The equations describing a black hole were developed by Einstein in his ground breaking theory of gravity - the General Theory of Relativity (GR).

We use super-computer simulations to study the processes believed to lead to the formation of the first super-massive black holes (SMBHs). Shown in the graphic is a  region of high gas density in a simulated part of the Universe. It is within the very densest regions where we we expect the first SMBHs to form at redshifts greater than 10.

Progressively zooming in on one of the highest density regions we can  study the contraction of the gas at the centre of a dark matter halo with a "virial temperature" >104 K under the influence of gravity. SMBHs and their formation are currently a very active area of research because it is these objects which eventually grow to form the quasars we see at redshifts 3–7.

Figure Credits: John Regan; the simulations were carried out on the DARWIN supercomputer at the University of Cambridge and on the Cosmos supercomputer at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) at the University of Cambridge. The simulations were performed using the Adaptive Mesh Code ENZO.