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Hubble discovery hints at origins of supermassive black holes

"There is a lot of controversy over which path these black holes take," said astrophysicist Andrea Ferrara.

By Brooks Hays
Hubble discovery hints at origins of supermassive black holes
An artistic rendering of a supermassive black hole seed. Photo by NASA/CXC/M. Weiss

PISA, Italy, May 24 (UPI) -- A team of astrophysicists has identified two supermassive black hole seed candidates in the early universe.

The two candidates were imaged using advanced computer models and data from the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope. They are seen as they were less than one billion years after the birth of the universe. Both are roughly 100,000 times the mass of the sun.

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Researchers believe the candidates explain how supermassive black holes appeared so quickly relative to the Big Bang.

Scientists described their new discovery in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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"Our discovery, if confirmed, would explain how these monster black holes were born," lead study author Fabio Pacucci, an astrophysicist at Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy, said in a news release.

One theory of the origins of supermassive black holes is that they are results of successive mergers of smaller black holes. However, many researchers believe the high rate at which black holes would have to merge and accumulate to explain the early appearance of supermassive black holes is unrealistic.

The latest discovery offers an alternate explanation. Scientists believe these much larger supermassive black hole seeds are formed by the collapse of a massive cloud of gas.

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"There is a lot of controversy over which path these black holes take," explained study co-author Andrea Ferrara, also an astrophysicist at Scuola Normale Superiore. "Our work suggests we are converging on one answer, where black holes start big and grow at the normal rate, rather than starting small and growing at a very fast rate."

The scientists acknowledge that further analysis of the two seed candidates is necessary to confirm their true nature.

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