The simulation proves theoretical predictions about the nature of accretion disks -- the matter that orbits and eventually falls into a black hole -- that have never before been seen.
Among the findings, the team of computational astrophysicists from Northwestern University, the University of Amsterdam and the University of Oxford found that the inner-most region of an accretion disk aligns with its black hole's equator.
This discovery solves a longstanding mystery, originally presented by Nobel Prize-winning physicist John Bardeen and astrophysicist Jacobus Petterson in 1975.
After a decades-long, global race to find the so-called Bardeen-Petterson effect, the team's simulation found that, whereas the outer region of an accretion disk remains tilted, the disk's inner region aligns with the black hole.
The team solved the mystery by thinning the accretion disk to an unprecedented degree and including the magnetized turbulence that causes the disk to accrete.
"This groundbreaking discovery of Bardeen-Petterson alignment brings closure to a problem that has haunted the astrophysics community for more than four decades," said Northwestern's Alexander Tchekhovskoy, who co-led the research.