Using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and infrared data from the agency's Spitzer Space Telescope, researchers say they've concluded one of every five cosmic sources contributing to the cosmic infrared background signal -- the collective light from an epoch when structure first emerged in the universe -- is a black hole.
"Our results indicate black holes are responsible for at least 20 percent of the cosmic infrared background, which indicates intense activity from black holes feeding on gas during the epoch of the first stars," Alexander Kashlinsky, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., reported.
Astronomers say they believe the background infrared arose from both clusters of massive suns in the universe's first stellar generations and from black holes, which produce vast amounts of energy as they accumulate gas.
It dates to a time early in the history of the universe when dwarf galaxies assembled, merged and grew into majestic objects like our own Milky Way galaxy, they say.
"This is an exciting and surprising result that may provide a first look into the era of initial galaxy formation in the universe," Goddard astrophysicist Harvey Mosely said of the combined X-ray and infrared data.