The record supermassive black hole is only 470 million years old in the universe
Galaxy UHZ1 with a record-distant supermassive black hole. Credit: Chandra X-ray Center.
It’s no secret that scientists have a problem with supermassive black holes, which are found in a universe so young that the gravitational monsters in question shouldn’t have had time to grow up. Yet there they are. Now astronomers have made even more of a mess when they discovered the most distant supermassive black hole to date, which therefore occurs in the youngest universe of all known supermassive black holes.
Ákos Bogdán. Credit: CfA.
This is a significant achievement, made possible by the ingenious combination of data from the good old Chandra X-ray Observatory and the latest James Webb Space Telescope. The result is the observation of a supermassive black hole in the universe just 470 million years after the Big Bang. This mega black hole is so early in its development that we haven’t seen it yet. Its mass is similar to that of the host galaxy.
Ákos Bogdán from the research center Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) and its collaborators searched for the most distant supermassive black holes. Turns out, they needed the Webb Telescope to observe extremely distant galaxies and the Chandra X-ray Observatory to observe its supermassive black hole. They also employed the services of the Space Gravitational Lens, an invaluable aid in the exploration of the early universe.
Heavy Seed scenario. Credit: NASA/STScI/Leah Hustak.
In this case, it is a supermassive black hole from the early galaxy UHZ1. We observe it in the region of the galaxy cluster Abell 2744. Although this cluster is “only” about 3.5 billion light-years away from us, the galaxy in question does not actually belong to it. It is located at a distance of about 13.2 billion light-years and is observed at a time when the age of the universe corresponded to only 3 percent of what it is today. It is the galaxy cluster Abell 2744 that acts as a gravitational lens and amplifies both the infrared signal for the Webb telescope and the X-ray signal for Chandra.
The question is how a supermassive black hole, the mass of which researchers have estimated at 10 to 100 million Suns (ie, more than the monster inside the Milky Way, in any case), could have appeared in such a young universe.
Bogdán’s team found solid evidence for a scenario in which this supermassive black hole did not grow slowly from a star-sized black hole, which it would hardly do, but was born from the collapse of a massive cloud of gas weighing 10,000 to 100,000 Suns. With this script, which is called “Heavy Seed,” is also consistent with the fact that the estimated mass of the supermassive black hole roughly corresponds to the mass of the stars in the galaxy in question. In the nearby universe, where galaxies are already old, supermassive black holes have a mass of about a tenth of the stars in a given galaxy.
Video: Quick Look: NASA Telescopes Discover Record-Breaking Black Hole
Video: Observations of CGM with LEM, dr Akos Bogdan, Center for Astrophysics
Chandra X-ray Center 11/6/2023.
Nature Astronomy 6/11/2023.