Pakistan is generally not known for any cutting edge achievement in international space research. The country’s space programme has had a chequered history with only a handful of accomplishments to its name. Now, however, the future of space research in the country looks bright with three Pakistani students, belonging to the Space Science Department of the Institute of Space Technology in Islamabad, receiving much international acclaim for their research on super-massive black holes and galaxy collisions in space.
According to The Express Tribune, the three talented researchers, Muhammad Awais Mirza, Afnan Tahir and Adnan Mehmood Baig, have published their paper in a scientific journal of renown, which is now generating much interest within international academia, including at some of the leading institutions of the world, namely Harvard, Columbia and Stony Brook.
The students pursued their research, which centered on the rotation of galaxies and the evolution of super-massive black holes in the universe, with the help of a supercomputer facility at Vanderbilt University (VU) in the US. By simulating space environments on a computer, they were able to figure out the physics behind colliding galaxies and the merger of their black holes.
The findings of the research study have been published in the prestigious Monthly Notices of Royal Astronomical Society – an impact factor journal of astrophysics based in the UK.
The research project was supervised by Fazeel Mahmood Khan, who holds a PhD in Astrophysics from the Max Planck Research School in Heidelberg, Germany.
In an interview to The Express Tribune, Khan revealed that the findings of the research could prove crucial in calculating ‘event rates’ for missions of the European Space Agency designed to detect gravitational waves in space.
“Gravitational waves astronomy has recently been hailed as the scientific breakthrough of 2017,” he further elaborated. “The Nobel Prize in Physics for the year 2017 was awarded for the detection of these waves for the first time by an Earth-based observatory.”
Apart from the supervision provided by Khan, the project also received invaluable help from Kelly Holley-Bockelmann, Associate Professor at VU and the chairperson of the US Laser Interferometer Space Antenna team, who was the research team’s external supervisor. In addition, Peter Berczik from the Chinese Academy of Sciences developed the simulation code that was employed in the study.
While speaking to The Express Tribune, Mirza, who was the lead author of the research paper, elucidated the thinking behind why the study was undertaken.
“We have actually attempted to map the progression of a pair of super-massive black holes located at the heart of galaxies under the influence of the rotation of neighbouring stars,” he said.
Tahir, who handled data analysis on the study, talked about the conclusions the research team reached while pursuing their project.
“Our experiment points out that most super-massive black hole pairs tend to have same sense of rotation as their host galaxy, even if their initial sense of rotation is counter aligned to the host galaxy,” he said. “On the other hand, we also observed that the central galaxy kinematics is primarily responsible for the characteristic behaviour of the super-massive black holes.”
Baig further elaborated on the findings of the research, stating: “The outcome of the study tells us that, as opposed to popular opinion, super-massive black hole pairs are not present right at the galactic centre. We have proved that these exotic objects can fall well outside the centre. This would mean that astronomers may have to point their telescopes away from central regions while targeting the super-massive black holes.”
Pakistan’s young researchers, inventors and entrepreneurs are now increasingly starting to make impactful differences in the field of international science and technology. From UNIDO recognising the efforts of five Pakistani start-ups for fostering clean technologies to Pakistani researchers unearthing a major security flaw plaguing social media giant Facebook, to now this significant stride in space research, our young innovators are making their presence felt in highly meaningful ways.