We’re one step closer to solving the mystery of how they get so big so fast.
A great cosmic mystery for science is explaining how supermassive black holes form.
The first stars should lead to modest black holes: hundreds or thousands of solar masses.
But when we see the Universe’s first black holes, they’re already ~1 billion solar masses.
The leading idea is black holes form and merge, and then rapidly accrete matter at maximal rates.
But those rapidly growing black holes should be invisible, obscured by the dense gas clouds they feed upon.
They were, until now. New observations have revealed the earliest “cloaked” black hole ever.
Although 180 ultra-distant (z > 6) quasars have been discovered, all were found with optical telescopes.
In the optical, as Pan-STARRS shows, there’s little to see.
But Hubble, in the near-infrared, uncovered a blurred, distant source of light.
ALMA, in sub-millimeter wavelengths, resolved two independent sources by measuring ionized carbon emission lines.
This is indeed a quasar: PSO167–13, but it would take X-ray data to confirm it.
NASA’s Chandra came through like a champ, finding high-energy X-rays but no low-energy ones.
Its light is 12.95 billion years old: the most distant gas-shrouded, growing black hole ever seen.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.