Conventional thinking suggests that the most massive black holes possess a ringed doughnut-shaped torus of gas and dust trapped in orbit around them. But if we know one thing about black holes, they're anything but conventional.
Now, astronomers have analyzed data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) of thousands of supermassive black holes to find that the "torus model" may be woefully inadequate when explaining what is actually going on.
ANALYSIS: Lasers to Solve the Black Hole Information Paradox?
Most galaxies appear to contain a supermassive black hole in their cores. With masses in the realms of millions to billions of solar masses, these objects truly are the heavyweights of our Universe. With all this mass comes a powerful gravitational field that dominates galactic cores, pulling in any matter - stars, planets, dust, gas, possibly unlucky extraterrestrials - to the black hole's event horizon.
Interactions between infalling matter and the supermassive black holes can generate huge quantities of energy, creating what are known as active galactic nuclei, making the effects of the black hole easy to observe.