R esearch published this week brings scientists one step closer to understanding the origins of supermassive black holes that formed in the very earliest years of the universe.
Black holes generally take millions of years to form, but supermassive black holes existed only 800,000 years after the Big Bang. The question as to why these supermassive black holes were able to grow exponentially in such a short timeframe has intrigued scientists for over a decade.
According to Zoltan Haiman, co-author of the study and astronomy professor at Columbia University, “the collapse of the galaxy and the formation of a million-solar-mass black hole takes 100,000 years – a blip in cosmic time… [but] a few hundred million years later, it has grown into a billion-solar-mass supermassive black hole. This is much faster than we expected.”
Professor Peter Johansson from the University of Helsinki developed a simulation model of supermassive black holes that has shed light on these giant ancient voids. The model, detailed in the Nature Astronomy Associate, showed that if a neighbouring galaxy zaps the galaxy hosting the black hole with an intense burst of ultraviolet radiation, then black holes can balloon to supermassive sizes.
Supermassive black holes are the largest type of black hole, and are found at the centre of almost all currently known massive galaxies. Black holes generally weigh the equivalent of between five and twenty suns, whereas supermassive black holes are capable of having a solar mass roughly one billion times that of the sun.