New study finds common link between young stars and black holes

Researchers have found similarities in the accretion discs around vastly different astronomical objects, including black holes, pictured here in an artist's representation(Credit: Marc van der Sluys)

A research project, led by the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, has identified similarities in the readings from the discs surrounding black holes and young stars, even though the objects have wildly different properties. The discovery was made by studying the brightness variations produced by accretion discs around various astronomical objects. These huge discs of matter play a central part in the growth of most objects in the Universe, providing a common ground for study.

The research made use of data gathered using NASA's Kepler/K2 and ULTRACAM – an ultra fast camera capable of taking up to 500 pictures a second simultaneously in three colors. The data used was gathered while the instrument was hosted at the ESO's Very Large Telescope and the William Herschel Telescope.

Comparing data from young stars in the latter stages of formation against that from black holes and white dwarfs, the team, which was led by Dr Simon Vaughan from the University of Leicester's Department of Physics and Astronomy, made an unexpected discovery.

"The seemingly random fluctuations we see from the black holes and white dwarfs look remarkably similar to those from the young stellar objects," said Dr Vaughan. "It is only the tempo that changes."

Specifically, the team was able to determine that the size of the object at the center of the accretion disc directly affected the speed of the flickering in observed brightness. This puts solid data to the notion that the physics of accretion are universal across all astrophysical objects, whether they by young stars or supermassive black holes, with huge differences in size, age, gravity and temperature, and more.

The Universities of Leicester, Southampton, Warwick and Sheffield contributed to the study, which was funded in part by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. The findings of the research were published in the journal Science Advances.

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