The discovery that supermassive black holes (SMBHs) with masses greater than 109 solar masses are in place within a billion years after the Big Bang represents a formidable theoretical challenge for current models of structure formation in the early Universe. How are such behemoths assembled in such a short time? The answer to this fundamental question relies on the solution to yet another unsolved problem: What are the pre-cursor black hole (BH) seeds and how do they form?
These are very pressing questions as a plethora of observations unequivocally suggest that the most massive SMBHs likely play a critical role in the formation and evolution of galaxies over cosmic time. For instance, the ionizing radiation produced by accreting massive BHs strongly affects the thermodynamics of the intergalactic medium (IGM), contributing to reionization of hydrogen at redshifts 6 − 8 and likely dominating the reionization of helium at redshift 3.5. Another is the direct impact that SMBHs have on their host galaxies. The current paradigm asserts that feedback from active galactic nuclei (AGN) is the dominant mechanism responsible for the observed truncation of star formation in the most massive galaxies. These are only a few examples of the influence that SMBHs exert on the assembly of structure in the universe. This underlines the need for a synthetic and comprehensive understanding of the life cycle a SMBH, from its birth at z > 10, through its youth as a rapidly growing quasar, and ultimately its adulthood, providing feedback that modulates its surroundings.
Our Theoretical and Computational Astrophysics Network (TCAN) is focused on the understanding that the cosmological role of SMBHs ultimately requires a detailed study and treatment of the multi-scale physics at work during formation and growth of the most massive SMBHs, as well as the feedback of these SMBHs on galactic structure. We will tackle this ambitious goal through collaborative research that cuts across traditional sub-disciplines of theoretical and computational astrophysics. To do so our network consists of a collaboration of scientists from 3 institutions: The University of Maryland at College Park, Georgia Institute for Technology and Yale University.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Numbers AST-1332858, AST-1333360, AST-1333514. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.