The black hole, located in the galaxy GN-z11, is approximately 6 million times heavier than the sun.
In a news release issued on Wednesday, January 17, 2024, the University of Cambridge, which headed the study team, stated that the newly found black hole was formed 400 million years after the big bang, which is generally accepted to be the event that created the universe more than 13 billion years ago.
Using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), astronomers have made an amazing discovery: they have found the oldest and most distant black hole ever observed, demolishing its host galaxy.
Understanding how supermassive black holes evolved to millions of billions of times the mass of the sun in the early cosmos is greatly advanced by this discovery. Unfathomable amounts of substance compressed into a tiny area are known as black holes.
Their gravitational force is strong enough to suck in anything that approaches, including light, because they are so dense. Black holes cannot therefore be directly detected; instead, scientists can only observe the effects of black holes on their environment.
The galaxy GN-z11 as seen by the Hubble space telescope and an illustration of a feeding black hole (inset). (Image credit: NMASA, ESA, P. Oesch (Yale University), G. Brammer (STScI), P. van Dokkum (Yale University), and G. Illingworth (University of California, Santa Cruz) (inset: Robert Lea )
This black hole resides in the ancient galaxy GN-z11, a whopping 13.4 billion light-years away. That means we're seeing it as it was just 400 million years after the Big Bang.
The black hole itself weighs about 6 million times as much as the sun and appears to be devouring matter from its galaxy five times faster than current theories suggest is possible.
Less than a billion years after the Big Bang, supermassive black holes expanded rapidly. It's similar to the enigma of a toddler towering over teenagers. There are two theories: either enormous clouds generate heavy seeds right away, or black hole seeds from falling stars evolve over billions of years.
A gigantic old black hole confirms the latter. But its rapid pace of feeding implies that little seeds may grow more quickly than previously believed. Natarajan led a team of scientists in November 2023 to reveal the discovery of the oldest known black hole—470 million years after the Big Bang. The Webb telescope contributed to this discovery as well. Unexpectedly large for its size, that black hole had a mass that was between 10 million and 100 million times that of the sun.
Previously, scientists believed that black holes formed gradually and eventually reached their current huge masses, according to a University of Cambridge statement. However, it would have taken a billion years or more for the recently discovered black hole to expand to its massive size if it had followed the guidelines of the traditional models.
Therefore, the object would have needed to either start out considerably larger than imagined or expand much faster than expected in order to reach its current size during the early universe.
When the paper was released as a preprint in December, Andrew Pontzen, a cosmologist at University College London who was not involved in the research, told Hannah Devlin of the Guardian, "Understanding where the black holes came from in the first place has always been a puzzle, but now that puzzle seems to be deepening." “These findings imply that some black holes instead expanded at a phenomenal rate in the early universe, far faster than we predicted, using the power of JWST to peer back through time."
The Eddington limit is a formula that determines feeding speed; however, this black hole consumes matter five times more quickly. It's rare, but if it's been developing quickly from a lighter seed for 100 million years while feeding voraciously, it might not require a heavy seed. This finding reshapes our knowledge of black hole development and provides fresh perspectives on the mysteries of the early universe.
Black Hole Feeding Endangers Galaxy's Survival
The group is certain that GN-z11, a tiny but bright galaxy, is headed toward a bright future due to the ravenous appetite of its black hole. But there's a cost to this cosmic gluttony: it's probably impeding the galaxy's expansion by displacing essential gas and dust required for star formation.
Every five years, Maiolino says on NPR, "this black hole is basically eating the [equivalent of] an entire sun." In actuality, it's far higher than what we believed these black holes could possibly support.
The most plausible explanations for how early black holes could have evolved so rapidly are that they could have resulted from the unexpected collapse of enormous gas clouds or from the merger of numerous black holes and stars, according to Live Science.
James Webb Space Telescope (JWST): By searching for tiny black hole seeds, JWST hopes to uncover additional mysteries of the early cosmos. This could resolve the question of why supermassive black holes are growing so rapidly.
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