A press release by the Royal Astronomical Society says a team of astronomers led by Dr. Sergei Nayakshin has proposed that doughnut-shaped dust surrounding supermassive black holes arise from high speed collisions between planets and asteroids.
After studying a number of supermassive black holes in the centres of galaxies, astronomers found that most of them are obscured from view by thick, doughnut shaped clouds of dust. While there are still doubts about the origins of these clouds, Nayakshin and his team propose they could be leftover from planets and asteroids smashing into each other.
The Christian Science Monitor explains that the new theory derives inspiration from zodiacal dust in our Solar System which is believed to have originated from collisions between asteroids and comets. When rocky astro-bodies smash into one another at speeds of more than 3 million kilometers per hour, they burst into fragments and fine dust.
The team of astronomers from Britain's Leicester University propose that the central regions of galaxies which have supermassive black holes also have planets and asteroids. Space.com reports the head of the team of scientists Dr. Nayakshin, explains that the high incidence of collisions around the supermassive black holes, coupled with high levels of radiation, create a hostile environment for life on planets orbiting supermassive black holes. Such planets could, therefore, be expected to be sterile. Dr. Nayakshin says:
"Too bad for life on these planets...but on the other hand the dust created in this way blocks much of the harmful radiation from reaching the rest of the host galaxy. This in turn may make it easier for life to prosper elsewhere in the rest of the central region of the galaxy."
Dr. Sergei Nayakshin and his team believe that studying the nature and origin of dust near black holes may help expand our knowledge of how supermassive black holes grow and how they affect the evolution of their host galaxies. Dr. Nayakshin explains:
"We suspect that the supermassive black hole in our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, expelled most of the gas that would otherwise turn into more stars and planets...Understanding the origin of the dust in the inner regions of galaxies would take us one step closer to solving the mystery of the supermassive black holes."
The Inquistr reports the researchers will publish their findings in an upcoming edition of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.