December 1, 2023

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NASA discovers a record-breaking supermassive black hole more than 13 billion light-years away

NASA discovers a record-breaking supermassive black hole more than 13 billion light-years away

Astronomers have discovered the farthest black hole ever observed with X-rays, located in the galaxy UHZ1, more than 13 billion light-years away. Using data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the James Webb Space Telescope, the results suggest that the black hole was massive at birth, challenging current theories about supermassive black holes in the early universe. Credit: NASA

  • A major indicator of growing supermassive mass Black hole – X-ray emission – found in a galaxy far, far away.
  • This galaxy, UHZ1, is located 13.2 billion light-years away, and was observed when the universe was only 3% of its current age.
  • NASAChandra X-ray Observatory and James Webb Space Telescope They combined their efforts to make this discovery.
  • This is the best evidence yet that some early black holes formed from massive clouds of gas.
UHZ1 black hole annotated

Astronomers have discovered the most distant black hole ever detected in X-rays (in a galaxy dubbed UHZ1) using the Chandra and Webb space telescopes. X-ray emission is a clear sign of the presence of a supermassive black hole. This result may explain how some of the first supermassive black holes in the universe formed. These images show the Abell 2744 galaxy cluster behind UHZ1, in X-ray from Chandra and infrared data from Webb, as well as close-ups of the UHZ1 black hole’s host galaxy. Source: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/Ákos Bogdán; Infrared: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI; Image processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/L. Fratari and K. Arcand

NASA telescopes discover a record-breaking black hole

This image reveals the most distant black hole ever identified through X-rays, potentially shedding light on the formation of the oldest supermassive black holes in the universe. The discovery was made using X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (shown in purple) and infrared data from the James Webb Space Telescope (shown in red, green, and blue).

Hungarian distances and notes

The extremely distant black hole in the galaxy UHZ1 is located in the direction of the galaxy cluster Abell 2744. The galaxy cluster is about 3.5 billion light-years from Earth. However, Webb’s data reveal that UHZ1 is much farther away than Abell 2744. At about 13.2 billion light-years away, UHZ1 could be seen when the universe was only 3% of its current age.

Gravitational lensing and X-ray detection

Using more than two weeks of observations from Chandra, researchers were able to detect X-ray emission from UHZ1, an indication of the presence of a supermassive black hole growing at the center of the galaxy. The X-ray signal is so faint that Chandra was only able to detect it – even with such long observation – because of a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing that boosted the signal by a factor of four.

Imaging and orientation techniques

The purple parts of the image show X-rays from large amounts of hot gas in Abell 2744. The infrared image shows hundreds of galaxies in the cluster, along with a few foreground stars. The inserts are enlarged to a small region centered around UHZ1. The small object in the web image is the distant galaxy UHZ1 and the center of the Chandra image shows X-rays coming from material close to the supermassive black hole in the middle of UHZ1. The large size of the X-ray source compared to the infrared view of the galaxy is because it represents the smallest volume that Chandra can resolve. The X-rays actually come from a much smaller region of the galaxy.

Different smoothing was applied to the full-field Chandra image and to the close-up Chandra image. Smoothing was performed across many pixels of the large image, to highlight faint cluster emission, at the expense of not showing faint X-ray point sources such as UHZ1. Much less smoothing was applied to the close-up image so that faint X-ray sources appear. The image is oriented so that north points 42.5 degrees to the right of vertical.

Black hole formation of heavy seeds

Illustration: A heavy black hole formed from the direct collapse of a massive cloud of gas. Image source: NASA/STScI/Leah Hostak

The importance of discovery

The discovery is important for understanding how some supermassive black holes — those containing up to billions of solar masses and found at the centers of galaxies — can reach massive masses so soon after the Big Bang. Are they formed directly from the collapse of massive gas clouds, creating black holes weighing between ten thousand and one hundred thousand suns? Or does it come from the explosions of the first stars that create black holes with the mass of only about ten to a hundred suns?

Research results and theoretical implications

The team of astronomers found strong evidence that the newly discovered black hole in UHZ1 was born massive. They estimate its mass to be between 10 and 100 million suns, based on the brightness and energy of the X-rays. This mass range is similar to that of all the stars in the galaxy they live in, which is in stark contrast to the black holes at the centers of galaxies in the nearby universe that typically contain only about a tenth of a percent of their own mass. Host galaxy stars.

The large mass of the black hole at a young age, as well as the amount of X-rays it emits and the brightness of the galaxy Webb discovered, are all consistent with 2017 theoretical predictions of a “supermassive black hole” that formed directly from the galaxy. Collapse of a huge cloud of gas.

Continuous research and collaboration

The researchers plan to use these and other results streaming from Webb and those collecting data from other telescopes to fill out a larger picture of the early universe.

The paper describing the results appears in Nature astronomy. Authors include Akos Bogdan (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard and Smithsonian), Andy Golding (Princeton University), Priyamvada Natarajan (Yale University), Ursolya Kovacs (Masaryk University, Czech Republic), Grant Tremblay (CFA), Urmila Chadayamuri (CfA), Marta Volontaire (Institut de Astrophysique de Paris, France), Ralph Kraft (CfA), William Fuhrmann (CfA), Christine Jones (CfA), Eugene Chorazov (Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, Germany) and Irina Zhuravleva (University of Chicago).

The Webb data used in both research are part of a survey called Ultradeep Nirspec and nirCam Observations Before the Era of Reionization (UNCOVER). The paper, led by UNCOVER team member Andy Golding, appears in Astrophysical Journal Letters. Co-authors include other members of the UNCOVER team, as well as Bogdan and Natarajan. A detailed interpretation paper comparing the observed properties of UHZ1 with theoretical models of massive black hole galaxies is currently under review and a preprint is available. here.


“Evidence for the origin of heavy seeds for early supermassive black holes from the X-ray quasar az ≈ 10” by Akos Bogdan, Andy D. Golding, Priyamvada Natarajan, Ursulia E. Kovacs, Grant R. Tremblay, Urmila Chadayamuri, Marta Volontaire, Ralph B. Kraft, William R. Forman, Christine Jones, Eugene Chorazov and Irina Zhuravleva, November 6, 2023, Nature astronomy.
doi: 10.1038/s41550-023-02111-9

“Discovery: Growth of the first massive black holes from JWST/NIRSpec – Spectroscopic redshift confirmation of X-ray illuminated AGN at z = 10.1” by Andy D. Golding, and Jenny E. Green, and David J. Seaton, Ivo Lappé, Rachel Bezançon, Tim B. Miller, Hakim Atiq, Akos Bogdan, Gabriel Brammer, Irina Chemerinska, Sam E. Cutler, Pratika Dayal, Yoshinobu Fudamoto, Seiji Fujimoto, Lukas J. Furtak, Vasiliy Kokorev, Gaurav Khullar, Joel Leja, Danilo Marchesini, Priyamvada Natarajan, Erika Nelson, Pascal A. Oish, Richard Pan, Casey Papovich, Sedona H. Price, Peter van Dokkum, Benjie Wang, 冰洁王, John R. Weaver, Catherine E. Whitaker and Adi Zittrain, September 22, 2023, Astrophysical Journal Letters.
doi: 10.3847/2041-8213/acf7c5

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center controls science operations from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s leading space science observatory. Webb will solve the mysteries of our solar system, look beyond distant worlds around other stars, and explore the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. WEB is an international program led by NASA with its partners the European Space Agency (ESA).European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

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