How Monster Black Holes Grew from the Big Bang's Leftovers

New computer simulations reveal how supersonic gas streams left over from the Big Bang could fuel some of the largest and oldest black holes in the universe.

Supermassive black holes detected 13 billion light-years away from Earth are believed to have formed in the early universe, though it is difficult to study the physical mechanisms responsible for the creation of these black holes. 

Using a supercomputer simulation, an international team of researchers was able to re-create the formation of a massive black hole from supersonic gas streams left over from the Big Bang, providing a new way of understanding how ginormous black holes formed in the early universe, according to a statement from the Kavli Institute. [Images: Black Holes of the Universe]

"This is significant progress," Naoki Yoshida, study author and Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU) Principal Investigator, said in the statement. "The origin of the monstrous black holes has been a long-standing mystery and now we have a solution to it." 

Projected distributions of density for dark matter (background and top panel) and gas (bottom three panels) as a massive star forms. The distribution is an asymmetrical, wedge-shaped structure. In the right panel, you can see a gravitationally unstable region that is 26,000 times the mass of the sun. (Image credit: Shingo Hirano)

Previous studies suggest supermassive black holes of the early universe likely formed from remnants of first-generation stars or following the collapse of a massive primordial gas cloud. However, those theories don’t explain how supermassive black holes grew so large, so quickly in the early universe, according to the statement.

The new computer simulations overcome this by incorporating supersonic gas streams generated by the Big Bang. According to this new model, when these streams of material mixed with surrounding dark matter, it would have created a dense, turbulent gas cloud when the universe was 100 million years old. Inside of this cloud, a protostar would have started to form and feed off the surrounding gas, growing extremely large in a short amount of time.

"Once reaching the mass of 34,000 times that of our sun, the star collapsed by its own gravity, leaving a massive black hole. These massive black holes born in the early universe continued to grow and merge together to become a supermassive black hole," Yoshida said in the statement.

Their findings, published Sept. 28 in the journal Science, will help astronomers better understand the growth of massive black holes. 

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.