Black holes spinning in unison, a sign of early universe mechanisms?
In 2016, astronomical news, normally confined to the daily reading of astronomers, started to hit the headlines. They read: “Why are these supermassive blackholes aligned?”, or “Astronomers in South Africa discover mysterious alignment of black holes”.
An unexpected discovery was made by Prof. Taylor, Director of IDIA and his team using the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in India, in preparation for MeerKAT. UCT PhD student Preshanth Jagannathan and the team’s observations had revealed something that lacked explanation.
Radio telescopes are the instrument of choice for the observation of jets of material ejected from the centre of galaxies by supermassive black holes. Those jets, stretching out into intergalactic space over distances much larger than the galaxy they originate from, can only be seen in radio waves.
The direction of the jets is along the rotation axis of the spinning black hole at the centre of the host galaxy. The alignment of those jets, and therefore of the spin of the supermassive black holes, on scales too large to be aware of each other is not expected. Unless something caused the alignment in the early universe, that is. Current simulations of the early universe also don’t produce this kind of alignment, so something is definitely yet to be uncovered. Could it be early magnetic fields, or exotic particles, or something even more exotic that scientists have yet to discover?
Astronomers don’t yet know what caused this alignment of spinning supermassive black holes, but MeerKAT observations will be able to confirm the discovery and offer complementary insights.
The project is ripe for more hands. Young researchers and graduate students are expected to cut their teeth on this project using MeerKAT data and the research cloud and data processing pipelines developed at IDIA.