Copenhagen, Denmark – Astronomers believe they have discovered a critical “missing link” out in space from the beginning of the universe. This fast-growing black hole appears to be at a point where it is between being a young star-forming galaxy and a supermassive black hole.
Discovered by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, scientists say this is the first time humans have actually seen one of these rare objects. Interestingly, astronomers found the monster’s black hole, called GNz7q, lurking in one of the most studied areas in the night sky – the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey-North (GOODS-North) field.
One of the earliest spectacles in the universe
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen say that GNz7q existed only 750 million years after the Big Bang – the event that brought the universe to life. It may sound like a long time after the formation of the universe, but not when you consider that scientists believe that the Big Bang took place approx. 14 billion years ago. By comparison, the Earth is only 4.5 billion years old.
Hubble determined that GNz7q is a newly formed black hole after discovering a compact source of ultraviolet (UV) and infrared light. Until now, scientists have only predicted the existence of these missing links in dusty, early star-forming galaxies, but have never seen one.
“Our analysis suggests that GNz7q is the first example of a rapidly growing black hole in the dusty core of a shooting star galaxy in an era close to the earliest supermassive black hole known in the universe,” explains Seiji Fujimoto, an astronomer at Niels Bohr. University of Copenhagen Institute in a media release. “The properties of the object across the electromagnetic spectrum are in excellent agreement with predictions from theoretical simulations.”
How does supermassive black holes grow so fast?
Scientists theorize that these enormous singularities start as dust-enveloped nuclei of star-forming “star eruptions” galaxies before emitting the surrounding gas and turning into extremely bright quasars.
Although both of these star phenomena are rare, astronomers have discovered both starburst galaxies and quasars in the early universe. This is the “missing link” that has not been detected before GNz7q. The study finds that GNz7q exhibits both aspects of a dusty shooting star galaxy and a quasar.
“GNz7q provides a direct link between these two rare populations and provides a new way to understand the rapid growth of supermassive black holes in the early days of the universe,” Fujimoto continues. “Our discovery provides an example of precursors to the supermassive black holes we observe in later eras.”
“GNz7q is a unique discovery found right in the middle of a famous, well-studied celestial field – it shows that great discoveries can often be hidden right in front of you,” adds Gabriel Brammer, another astronomer at the Niels Bohr Institute. . “It is unlikely that the discovery of GNz7q within the relatively small GOODS-North study area was just ‘stupid luck’, but rather that the prevalence of such sources may actually be significantly higher than previously thought.”
Passes the torch on to James Webb
The team notes that the only reason they found GNz7q stored in relatively common sight is because of the unique detailed multi-wavelength datasets available in GOODS-North. Without the information Hubble sent back to scientists, the team would have missed the presence of the black hole. This is because the missing link does not contain the same characteristics that astronomers look for when searching for quasars.
Going forward, study authors hope the new James Webb Space Telescope will continue where its famous predecessor left off, allowing scientists to study GNz7q in more detail.
“Complete characterization of these objects and probing of their evolution and underlying physics in much greater detail will be possible with the James Webb Space Telescope,” Fujimoto concludes. “Once in normal operation, Webb will have the power to determine how common these fast-growing black holes really are.”
The study is published in the journal Nature.