Galactic Collisions: The Growth and Merger of Supermassive Black Holes
In light of the recent discoveries of gravitational waves from merging black holes and the future Laser Interferometer Space Antenna that will detect these phenomena as associated with more massive black holes, a study of the small-scale environment hosting these events provides the necessary groundwork for future investigations. This detailed study is best carried out in nearby merging galaxies where we have the ability to resolve the nuclear environment to within tens of parsecs spatial resolution. To circumvent the heavy obscuration at the center of the merging systems, tracing nuclear gas dynamics in the near-infrared regime presents the most direct way to examine the feeding and feedback events associated with supermassive black holes at small scales. In this talk, I will present results from our Keck survey that highlights the gas kinematics around black holes in nearby interacting galaxies as they transition from kiloparsec separations to coalescence. Our findings characterized and addressed the nature of nuclear disks, molecular outflows as driven by active black holes, as well as the shocked and turbulent gas in the interstellar medium within the progenitor galaxies. I will also outline ongoing work on the origin of gas structure within the broad line regions of accreting black holes, and future plans that further explore the mass buildup of supermassive black holes from their smaller counterparts. The power of high-resolution studies in dissecting how systems dynamically evolve will become indispensable for understanding the coevolution of supermassive black holes and their host galaxies as we enter an exciting era of astronomy with the imminence of the James Webb Space Telescope, 30-meter class telescopes, and beyond.