The collision of black holes was observed when the universe was only 740 million years old Astronomy

The collision of a pair of black holes in the ancient universe was observed for the first time. Observations by the James Webb Space Telescope reveal the merger of two galaxies and the massive black holes at their centers when the universe was only 740 million years old, about 20 of its current age.

The discovery that massive mergers were common in the nascent universe could help explain how supermassive black holes like the one at the heart of the Milky Way achieved such massive dimensions.

Professor Roberto Maiolino, an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge, and a member of the team behind the observations, said: “One of the problems we have in cosmology is explaining how these black holes are able to grow so large. We have always talked in the past about devouring matter so quickly.” Big or we are born big Another possibility is that they grow very quickly by merging.

Until now, it was not clear whether the merger of galaxies – which has already happened – would also lead to the black holes in the centers becoming a single cosmic hole. Recent models suggest that one of them will be ejected into space to become a “wandering black hole.”

The latest observations harness the Webb telescope’s ability to reach the farthest reaches of the universe, thus providing the first glimpse into galaxy mergers in the distant past.

Impression of a supermassive black hole sucking in matter (artistic illustration of quasar J059-4351 powered by a monster black hole). Photo: ESO/M Kornmesser/EPA

In the merger process, black holes devour huge amounts of matter and also release a lot of energy, and this activity has distinct spectroscopic features that allow astronomers to identify it. This activity revealed a collision underway in a system called ZS7, with one of the two black holes whose mass is estimated to be 50 million times the mass of the Sun.

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“The mass of the other black hole is likely similar, although it is difficult to measure because this second black hole is buried in dense gas,” Maiolino said.

Subsequent observations showed that of the black holes discovered in this time period, about a third appeared to be in the process of merging. “This could be a real channel for the rapid growth of early black holes,” he said.

Professor Andrew Pontzen, a cosmologist at University College London, who was not involved in the research, said: “One of the key blanks in our cosmic history book is where giant black holes, millions or billions of times the mass of the Sun, came from.” . Are they born large somehow, or do they have to be built from initially smaller black holes that collide together to form giants? This is a new guide from [the Webb telescope] Indirect, but it helps suggest a major role for black hole collisions.

In the future, scientists hope to be able to make direct measurements of ancient collisions using the next generation of gravitational wave detectors, including the space-based laser interferometer antenna. (Lisa) The mission, which was recently approved by the European Space Agency.

The results are published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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