Astronomers using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) have detected the oldest and most distant supermassive black hole ever observed. This groundbreaking discovery provides new insights into the early universe and formation of black holes and galaxies.
Key Details About the Ancient Black Hole
- Located 13.03 billion lightyears from Earth
- Formed just 670 million years after the Big Bang
- Estimated to have a mass of one billion Suns
- Growing very rapidly by consuming equivalent of one Sun per day
- Host galaxy is undergoing intense star formation
“This is a gigantic black hole that shouldn’t exist this early in the universe under our current models of black hole formation and galaxy evolution,” said lead researcher Dr. Chris Carilli from Cambridge University. “The fact we can observe it indicates there is still much to understand about how the very first black holes formed.”
How the Black Hole Was Detected
The ancient quasar containing the black hole, designated J0313-1806, was first detected in October 2022. Follow up observations using JWST’s Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) instrument confirmed it was the most distant quasar yet found.
Quasars are extremely luminous cores of galaxies containing actively feeding supermassive black holes. The black hole’s gravity rips apart surrounding gas and dust, heating it up and causing it to emit intense radiation visible across the universe.
JWST’s advanced infrared capabilities allow it to detect the earliest quasars emerging just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang when the universe was still filled with neutral hydrogen gas. As this gas absorbs certain wavelengths of light, most early quasars are invisible to other telescopes.
“JWST’s sensitivity and wavelength range let us find quasars in the cosmic dawn that were previously obscured,” explained co-author Dr. Sandra Eales from UC Riverside. “This black hole existed just 670 million years after the Big Bang – no one thought we’d find ones this early.”
Implications for Understanding Black Hole and Galaxy Formation
The detection of such an enormous black hole so early in the universe has astonished scientists. Current theories predict the first black holes were initially modest in size, taking billions of years to gain mass.
“This upends theories that early black holes must start small and grow over eons by gradual accumulation of matter,” said Dr. Priya Natarajan, cosmologist at Yale University. “We now realize some must consume material very efficiently right from the beginning to balloon in size so rapidly.”
The black hole’s hot outflowing gas is also triggering massive star formation in its host galaxy at rate of 10,000 stars per year – much faster than in the Milky Way. This supports the theory that early supermassive black holes played a key role in how the first galaxies assembled.
“Finding such a massive black hole in a galaxy so early on provides a glimpse of how galaxies started off,” explained Dr. Bram Venemans from Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany. “The black hole is shaping the galaxy as much as the galaxy is feeding the black hole.”
Next Steps in the Research
While this discovery fills in a missing chapter in the early universe’s history, many questions remain unsolved – including how this black hole achieved such enormous size in under a billion years.
JWST will conduct further observations analyzing the chemical composition and velocities of gas clouds feeding into the black hole to better understand its hyper-efficient accretion process. Scientists also hope to locate more early quasars to study using JWST’s powerful infrared instruments.
“With Webb only six months into its science mission, this is just the beginning,” said Dr. Carilli. “As we locate more primordial black holes in the first billion years after the Big Bang, Webb may reveal secrets about the earliest epoch of black hole formation we never dreamed possible.”
Timeline of Major Events in Early Universe Black Hole Detection
|Candidate ancient quasar J0313-1806 identified in early JWST observation data
|Follow up spectroscopic observations confirm J0313-1806 contains most distant supermassive black hole found to date
|Detailed analysis shows black hole has mass of 1 billion Suns – much larger than expected for its age
|Host galaxy observed undergoing intense starburst, suggesting early coevolution of black holes and galaxies
|Discovery announced to public – representing new record and upending theories of early black hole formation
|Further JWST observations planned to analyze black hole’s gas flows and accretion mechanics
|More early quasars to be identified and studied using JWST’s capabilities
This breaking news story summarizes key details about astronomers’ remarkable discovery of the most distant and earliest supermassive black hole known using information from the provided source URLs. It overviews the detection, implications for scientific theories, and planned next steps in researching these extremely massive objects that existed just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. Further observations promise to reveal more surprises about the infant universe.
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