The stars can no longer hide behind the light from feeding the massive black hole in the infant universe.
With the help of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), astronomers have detected starlight from two early galaxies that host supermassive black holes, or quasars, for the first time. The findings could help scientists better understand how supermassive black holes rapidly grow to masses equivalent to millions or billions of suns and how they and the galaxies that host them hold together. -hand that changes.
“25 years ago, it was amazing to us that we could observe host galaxies from 3 billion years ago, using large ground-based telescopes,” said team member and Max Planck Institute for Astronomy researcher Knud Janke in a statement. “The Hubble Space Telescope allows us to probe the peak epoch of black hole growth 10 billion years ago. And now we have JWST available to see the galaxies where the first supermassive black holes appeared.”
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The team observed two of these so-called active galaxies, seeing what they were like when the 13.8-billion-year-old universe was less than a billion years old. They were able to calculate the mass of the galaxies and the mass of the supermassive black hole that powers the quasars, designated J2236+0032 and J2255+0251. Light from these two galaxies took 12.9 and 12.8 billion years to reach us, so they appear to astronomers as 870 and 880 million years after the Big Bang, respectively.
The observations revealed that the mass of the galaxies is 130 billion and 30 billion times that of the sun, and the mass of the massive feeding black holes as 1.4 billion solar masses for J2236+0032 and 200 million solar masses for J2255 +0251. It showed the masses of these early galaxies and their central black holes were related in the same way seen in galaxies observed closer to the Milky Way and, thus, more recent in time.
How do supermassive black holes grow with their galaxies?
Quasars are some of the most intense objects in the entire universe. Powered by supermassive black holes surrounded by gas and dust, some of which accumulates in the black hole, some of which explodes at speeds approaching the speed of light, quasars emit so much light that they often surpassing every star in the host galaxy. they are combined.
Almost every galaxy is believed to have a supermassive black hole at its heart, but not all of these are quasars. For example, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), consumes very little matter equivalent to a person eating a grain of rice every million years. So, this is not enough nourishment to power a quasar.
The first quasar was spotted in 1963, and since then, scientists have been unraveling the processes that power their massive light output. In the 2000s, it was discovered that the masses of galaxies and their supermassive black holes are correlated, with the mass of the stars in a galaxy being about 1000 times greater than the mass of its central black hole.
The relation between the masses of supermassive black holes and their galaxies holds for galaxies with supermassive black holes millions of times that of the sun and for those with central black holes billions times the mass of our star.
The connection between the mass of galaxies and the mass of their supermassive black hole can be attributed to the fact that both grow through a chain of mergers between galaxies that eventually lead to black holes at the center of those galaxies violently colliding with each other and creating a larger black hole. Consequently, after multiple mergers, the mass of a galaxy will be around the average mass of the initial galaxy times the number of galaxies it merged with, while the central black hole mass will be around the mass of the initial black hole which is times the same number. , leading to an almost linear relationship.
Another suggestion is that when a supermassive black hole consumes enough material to become a quasar, the radiation it blasts out controls the material available for both powering the quasar and for forming new stars. So when the quasar runs out of food and stops growing, star formation slows in that galaxy as well.
Whatever the reason for this relationship, astronomers have not been able to determine whether it exists for galaxies and their supermassive black holes in the very early universe until now. This is because, while the luminosity of quasars allows them to be studied at distances billions of light-years away, it also makes it difficult to observe dimmer starlight from quasar-hosting galaxies.
Ground-based telescopes have difficulty distinguishing the light from quasars and the light from stars in their galaxies because of the effect of Earth’s atmosphere. From its position above the atmosphere, the Hubble Space Telescope has had little success unraveling the light from these galaxies when they are 10 billion light-years away. But to do this for more distant and earlier galaxies, astronomers had to wait for the most powerful space telescope ever to be put into orbit, the JWST.
The quasars J2236+0032 and J2255+0251 were observed with JWST’s main instrument, the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), for 2 hours at two different wavelengths. The team took the combined spectrum of quasar light and starlight for both galaxies and then separated the quasar light to detect light from the early stars in such galaxies for the first time.
Interestingly, observations of J2236+0032 and J2255+0251 and their galaxies with JWST showed that the supermassive black hole/galaxy mass relationship existed even in the early universe. Currently, this data alone is not enough to reveal the origins of this massive correlation and how supermassive black holes grow to massive sizes, but it will inform future investigations.
The findings represent only part of JWST’s observations of distant quasars, with the powerful space telescope currently observing an additional dozen supermassive black hole-powered objects and their galaxies. In addition, an additional 11 hours of observation time was granted to this particular exploration of the early universe.
The research was published on June 28 in the journal Nature.
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