Ancient Supermassive Black Holes: Rethinking the Early Universe

Scientists have discovered an ancient supermassive black hole, challenging our understanding of how these massive objects formed. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) played a crucial role in this discovery.


Supermassive Black Holes

Supermassive black holes, found at the centers of galaxies, are much larger than stellar-mass black holes. The black hole at the center of the Milky Way, called Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), is about 4.3 million times the mass of the Sun. However, the heaviest black hole known, TON 618, weighs a staggering 66 billion solar masses.

The formation of these giant black holes remains a mystery. While it is speculated that individual black holes may have combined to form them, it is difficult to account for their observed distribution within the limited time since the Big Bang.

JWST Weighs In

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has the ability to capture images of ancient galaxies that existed just a few hundred million years after the universe's inception. In a recent study, astronomers used data from the JWST and the Chandra X-ray Observatory to identify a distant galaxy hosting a supermassive black hole.

Astronomers were surprised to find that the mass of the black hole in this ancient galaxy was comparable to the total mass of its stars. The existence of such an early supermassive black hole suggests the need for a different mechanism of formation, as stellar-mass black hole mergers cannot account for it.

Gassy Black Holes

Sophisticated simulations propose that giant clouds of gas directly collapsed into massive black holes in the early universe. These black holes, with masses approximately 100,000 times that of the Sun, may have transformed into supermassive black holes through a combination of mergers and gas absorption.

While this discovery represents just one example of an ancient galaxy hosting a supermassive black hole, it is expected that more will be found in the future. As the JWST continues its operations, scientists hope to gain a deeper understanding of the early universe and the processes that led to the formation of supermassive black holes.