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Title: From seed to supermassive : simulating the origin, evolution and impact of massive black holes
Author: Beckmann, Ricarda
ISNI:       0000 0004 7230 3342
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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First observed as early as redshift z = 7 and now thought to be found at the centre of every massive galaxy in the local Universe, the evolution history of supermassive black holes (SMBHs) spans over 13 billion years. In this thesis, the coevolution between SMBHs and their host galaxies is studied using a set of hydrodynamical simulations to isolate different components of the interaction between black holes and cosmic gas. The simulations range from black hole accretion in an idealised context to the impact of feedback in the cosmological simulations of the HORIZON suite. The origin of SMBHs during the first billion years of the Universe is a highly non-linear problem, where small-scale behaviour influences large- scale behaviour and vice versa. Gas fuelling a black hole flows from the cosmic web, through its host galaxy and into the black hole's gravitational potential, before eventually reaching its event horizon. Even discounting the complex physical processes at play, resolving the 19 orders of magni- tude in spatial scale involved is beyond the capabilities of current simula- tions. Some of the length scales therefore have to be covered by sub-grid algorithms which need to be able to handle a wide range of environments. Idealised accretion simulations presented in this thesis show that the Bondi-Hoyle-Lyttleton (BHL) accretion algorithm is sufficiently versatile. It automatically determines the accretion rate onto the black hole by the mass flux into its accretion region when the black hole's gravitational po- tential becomes resolved. The accretion rate onto the black hole therefore naturally converges to the correct solution once the size of the accretion region approaches the physical size of the black hole. A drag force algo- rithm that compensates for unresolved dynamical friction, on the other hand, produces a force on the black hole that can unphysically accelerate it relative to the bulk flow of the gas. It needs to be switched off when gas properties are measured within the black hole's gravitational potential. A study of black hole accretion within an isolated cooling halo confirms that the accretion algorithm is able to handle the flow configurations en- countered within an evolving galaxy. To ensure gas is always accreted within the black hole's gravitational potential, a refinement algorithm called "zoom-within-zoom" is introduced in this thesis. It allows the black hole environment to be resolved by orders of magnitude above that of its host galaxy. A low mass seed black hole with a strong drag force early on takes advantage of this extra information during the black hole's early evolution. In the longer term, resolving gas clouds in the black hole vicin- ity to sub-pc scales has a lasting impact on both the mass evolution and duty cycle of massive black holes. Sub-pc size clumps also play a deciding role in the first 200 Myr of evo- lution of a SMBH progenitor in a full cosmological context: 90% of its mass is gained through interactions with dense clumps, which fuel super- Eddington accretion bursts. Once the gas within the host galaxy settles into a rotationally supported disc, star formation and black hole accre- tion slow down. As both primarily occur within the central 30 pc of the compact host galaxy, star formation in proto-galaxies has a major impact on black hole accretion even in the absence of feedback. At low redshift, on the other hand, feedback becomes the crucial link between a SMBH and its host galaxy. A comparison of two simulations from the HORIZON suite, run with and without active galactic nuclei (AGN) feedback respectively, shows that AGN feedback is able to prevent as much as 90% of the stellar mass from forming in the most massive galaxies. Quenching proceeds via a combination of AGN driven outflows and reduced inflows and evolves with redshift as the MSMBH - M* relation flattens from z = 5 to z = 0. In conclusion, neither the evolution of galaxies nor that of black holes can be understood without the context of the other. At high redshift, the competition between star formation and black hole accretion inside the compact host galaxy intrinsically links the origin of SMBHs to the early evolution of galaxies. At low redshift, AGN feedback modulates the gas supply of the host galaxy, which has a lasting impact on star formation. The coevolution of black holes and galaxies therefore spans their entire history.
Supervisor: Devriendt, Julien ; Slyz, Adrianne Sponsor: National Science Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Hydrodynamics ; Black holes ; Astrophysics ; Accretion