For years, astronomers have been searching for the “missing link” connecting quasars – a term for supermassive and incredibly bright black holes – and star-forming galaxies known as “starburst” galaxies. This discovery will better help our understanding of the origins of the universe and how galaxies (and, by extension, stars like the Sun and planets like Earth) are formed.. While modeling and simulations have suggested that these objects exist, they have not actually been observed—that is, until now.
An international team of astrophysicists at the University of Copenhagen Publish a paper in the magazine temper nature On Wednesday he details the discovery of an ancient ancestor of supermassive black holes. The object – dubbed GNz7q – was born 750 million years after the Big Bang in an era known as the “cosmic dawn”.
The team believes that GNz7q may be the missing link that helps confirm theories that supermassive black holes can sprout from star-forming galaxies. The object also gives researchers more insight into the formation of the universe.
“The mechanisms of the formation and rapid evolution of supermassive black holes remain one of the biggest mysteries in modern astronomy,” Seiji Fujimoto, a researcher in galaxies and black holes at the University of Copenhagen and lead author of the new study, told The Daily Beast. e-mail. He later added that the discovery of GNz7q “paves a new path toward understanding the rapid growth of supermassive black holes in the early universe.”
Using images from the Hubble Space Telescope, Fujimoto and his team were able to peer into the host galaxy of GNz7q and discover a very chaotic star factory. The galaxy is pumping out new stars 1,600 times faster than the Milky Way. These conditions are ideal for researching the origins of quasars, making it an ideal place to find an object like GNz7q.
“Its properties are clearly among these very luminous quasars that others have discovered in the early universe, as well as galaxies,” Gabriel Brammer, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen and co-author of the study told The Daily Beast. “It’s kind of halfway between the two, which is part of why we’re so excited about this object. It’s a case study of how these two phenomena are related.”
He added that he and his team believe GNz7q is the first observed example of a “ancestor of supermassive black holes”.
Ironically, the object was discovered in an often-observed and studied region of space called the Hubble GOODS North field. For years, he remained undetected, hiding in plain sight. It wasn’t until Brammer comprehensively collected and analyzed all of the data sets from Hubble that the team was able to pick out GNz7q.
“This particular object appears to be the brightest, very distant galaxies in this field,” Brammer explained. “At the same time it had this very unique appearance of being a very compact source. This is a feature of black holes.”
Fujimoto added: “We began to believe that the object could be the missing link between galaxies and the emergence of a supermassive black hole in the early universe.”
Since the North Field is also a relatively small area, Brammer thinks objects like GNz7q could be “more common than we thought”. Fortunately, now that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is in orbit, the team now hopes that they can use the powerful observatory to further research GNz7q — and possibly find other things like it.
“JWST will have the ability to conclusively determine how common these rapidly growing black holes are,” Fujimoto explained. “So we may soon discover number two, three, or even more things similar to GNz7q in the coming years.”
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