Supermassive Black Holes and Nuclear Clusters in Galaxies

The centers of all massive galaxies - including our Galaxy, the Milky Way - contain black holes with masses greater than one million times that of the Sun. These supermassive black holes are thought to have a fundamental impact on the star formation and distribution of dust, gas, and chemical elements across their host galaxies. Although we know that supermassive black holes must play a critical role in shaping the properties of the galaxies in the Universe there are still many mysteries and unknowns regarding their formation and growth mechanisms, for example:

Why only some galaxies with actively accreting black holes show powerful jets? Are they a required mechanism to grow these black holes?  We know of the existence of stellar mass black holes and supermassive black holes but what about in between? Do intermediate massive black holes exist? If so, why have we not found them? Perhaps they hold the clues to understanding the "seeds" of the supermassive black holes seen in the most distant quasars, which must have formed in less than one billion years after the Big Bang. The formation of these supermassive black holes in such a short time poses critical challenges for black hole formation and growth theories.

At MPIA we are tackling all these open questions by studying the formation of supermassive black holes close and far. We perform detailed studies of the nuclear regions of nearby galaxies to the characterization of the farthest quasars, using the most powerful telescopes at all wavelengths. We also combine these observational efforts with state-of-the-art simulations of the accretion process of the central supermassive black holes and their co-evolution with the host galaxies.

Associated Research Groups

Supermassive black holes and galaxies in the epoch of reionization
This group is interested in understanding how the first black holes and galaxies formed within the first billion years of the Universe. We exploit large sky surveys to identify the most distant active supermassive black holes known. We then use the most powerful telescopes on Earth and space to characterize these supermassive black holes, their host galaxies and cosmic environments (see also Fabian Walter’s group and Knud Jahnke’s group).

Credit: Robin Dienel/Carnegie Institution for Science more
Galactic Nuclei Group
This group studies the build-up of galactic nuclei in order to constrain the formation and growth of supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies. In particular, to disentangle the formation processes of nuclear star clusters found in most galaxies and characterize the presence of black holes in low-mass galaxies. more
Physics of astrophysical jets group
We investigate the physics of the launching mechanism of astrophysical jets, their propagation and collimation by means of magnetohydrodynamic simulations. In particular we are interested in extragalactic jets from AGN and the accretion process to their central supermassive black hole. more
This research group uses far-IR emission of high redshift quasars, AGN mid-IR interferometry, and surveys of distant galaxies This reseach group uses far-IR emission of high redshift quasars, AGN mid-IR interferometry, and surveys of distant galaxies to understand the nature of active galactic nuclei. more
They focus to equal amounts on the classical three aspects of observational astronomy (data analysis and interpretation, development of new observational strategies, and building instrumentation), which need to be developed in close interaction to successfully push the limits of astronomy and astrophysics to new horizons. more
Go to Editor View