The dynamical behavior of a relaxed star cluster containing a massive, central black hole poses a challenging problem for the theorist and intriguing possibilities for the observer. The historical development of the subject is sketched and the salient features of the physical solution and its observational consequences are summarized.
The full dynamical problem of a relaxed, self-gravitating, large N-body system containing a massive central black hole has all the necessary ingredients to excite the most dispassionate many-body, computational physicist: it is a time-dependent, multidimensional, nonlinear problem which must be solved over widely disparate length and time scales simultaneously. The problem has been tackled at various levels of approximation over the years. A new 2+1 dimensional Monte Carlo simulation code has been developed in appreciable generality to solve the time-dependent Fokker-Planck equation in E-J space for this problem. The code incorporates such features as (1) a particle “cloning and renormalization” scheme to provide a statistically reliable population of test particles in low density regions of phase space and (2) a time-step “adjustment” algorithm to ensure integration on local relaxation timescales without having to follow typical particles on orbital trajectories. However, critical regions in phase space (e.g. disruption “loss-cone” trajectories) can still be followed on orbital timescales. Numerical results obtained with this Monte Carlo scheme for the dynamical structure and evolution of globular star clusters and dense galactic nuclei containing massive black holes are reviewed.
Recent dynamical integrations of the Einstein field equations for spherical, collisionless (Vlasov) systems in General Relativity suggest a possible origin for the supermassive black holes believed to power quasars and active galactic nuclei. This scenario is discussed briefly.