In the Very Early Universe, astronomers discover a rapid-growing black hole in an extreme galaxy

In the Very Early Universe, astronomers discover a rapid-growing black hole in an extreme galaxy ...

NASA/JPL-Caltech's rendering of a large black hole in a distant galaxy.

The discovery of the galaxy and the black hole at its core offers new insights into the very first supermassive black holes, published in the Royal Astronomical Society's Monthly Notices.

The team has determined that the COS-87259 galaxy, which contains a new supermassive black hole, is very powerful, producing stars at a rate 1000 times that of our own Milky Way and containing over a billion solar masses of interstellar dust.

The black hole is thought to be a new kind of primordial black hole – one that is heavily encased by cosmic "dust," producing almost all of its light in the mid-infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. This is also thought to be a large jet of material passing through the host galaxy at near light speed.

Today, black holes with masses up to billions of times larger than our own Sun are at the core of almost every galaxy. Scientists are unsure how these supermassive black holes first emerged, particularly because several of them were discovered when the Universe was very young. We see them as they existed in the past, in this case, just 750 million years after the Big Bang, which is roughly 5% of the Universe's current age.

This new object is remarkable because it was discovered over a relatively small area of the sky typically used to detect similar objects — less than ten times the size of the full moon — suggesting that there might be tens of thousands of similar sources in the very early Universe. This is completely unexpected from previous data.

NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) collaborate to create this unique supernova factory.

The only other very early supermassive black holes we knew about were quasars, which are tiny active black holes obscured by cosmic dust. These quasars are extremely rare at distances similar to COS-87259, with only a few tens located above the whole sky.

Ryan Endsley, the primary author of the paper and now a Postdoctoral Fellow at The University of Texas at Austin, states, "These findings suggest that very early supermassive black holes were often heavily obscured by dust, perhaps as a result of the intense star formation activity in their host galaxies."

Similar objects have been discovered in the more local, present-day Universe, as shown above, with two galaxies colliding together, causing an intense starburst as well as severe obscuration of the growing supermassive black hole in one of the two galaxies.

"While nobody anticipated to discover this sort of object in the very early Universe," Endsley adds, "its discovery represents a significant step towards furthering our understanding of how billion solar mass black holes were formed so early in the Universe's lifetime," as well as how the most massive galaxies evolved.

Ryan Endsley, Daniel P Stark, Feige Wang, Jinyi Yang, Renske Smit, Rychard Bouwens, Kevin Hainline, and Sander Schouws, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 24 February 2023. DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stad266

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