The first billion years of the universe were as chaotic as Tuesday’s first presidential debate. Galaxies are forming, gas is flowing… While we don’t want to look back on Tuesdays often, we like to look back. The earth is in a good position in the sense of the universe. Because light takes a long time to travel through the universe, our telescopes can receive faint signals of early life in the universe.
On Thursday, astronomers announced the discovery of a huge, interesting structure from the universe just 900 million years old. The structure, about 300 times the size of the Milky Way, contains a supermassive black hole that traps six nearby galaxies in a cosmic gas “spider web.” This provides new revelations about how the early universe grew so rapidly.
In a new study published Thursday in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, an international team of astronomers details the environment around the steroid “SDSS J1030-0524” (J1030). The estrogen is a very bright light source in the sky, with a supermassive black hole at its center and a huge gas disk called a “sucking disk” around it.
Astronomers used the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile and the United States telescope to observe J1030, which is located in a deep, dark corner of space. This supermassive black hole is 1 billion times the mass of our sun, and it’s huge — it’s unusual because it’s still very young.
“This study is largely driven by ambitious ambitions to understand some of the most challenging objects– supermassive black holes in the early universe,” Marco Mignoli, an astronomer at the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) in Bologna, Italy, said in a press release. We have discovered many giant black holes in our earliest days of the universe, but astronomers have not been entirely sure what made them grow to such a large size.
While studying J1030, Mignoli and his team found that a series of galaxies surrounding the supermassive black hole were intricately connected by gas filaments. “Cosmic webs are like cobwebs, ” he explains. “Galaxies stand and grow where the wires intersect, and gas flows — which fuel galaxies and central supermassive black holes — can flow along the wire.”
The team concluded that the large structure could help provide the black hole with the space it needs to grow to such a large size. The team believes the findings provide evidence that the “dark matter halo”, an invisible dark matter sphere, was key to the formation of black holes and galaxies in the early universe. It is these rings that provide a skeleton where substances, such as gases, gather. The gas flows through this invisible skeleton and ends up in a black hole, where it is swallowed up. More gas and galaxies falling into black holes means larger black holes.
Potentially, there are more galaxies in the large structure around J1030. “We believe we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg, and the few galaxies currently found around this supermassive black hole are just the brightest,” said Barbara Balmaverde, an ASTRONOMER at INAF and co-author of the study.
It is hoped that ESO’s next-generation telescope, the Very Large Telescope, will be able to observe the light emitted by faint objects near J1030. It is expected to be operational by 2025.