Rare black hole 1 billion times the mass of the sun could upend our understanding of galaxy formation

A quasar, which the new black hole is an early form of, blasting a jet of hot, radioactive wind into the cosmos.
An illustration of a quasar, which the new black hole is an early form of, blasting a jet of hot, radioactive wind into the cosmos. (Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

A rare supermassive black hole found hiding at the dawn of the universe could indicate that there were thousands more of the ravenous monsters stalking the early cosmos than scientists thought — and astronomers aren't sure why. 

The primordial black hole is around 1 billion times the mass of our sun and was found at the center of the galaxy COS-87259. The ancient galaxy formed just 750 million years after the Big Bang and was spotted by the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), a radio observatory in Chile, in a tiny patch of sky less than 10 times the size of the full moon.

Obscured beneath a cloak of turbulent stardust, the rapidly growing black hole was seen consuming part of its accretion disc of orbiting matter while spewing the leftovers out in a jet traveling close to the speed of light. The monster black hole appears to be at a rare intermediate stage of growth, somewhere between a dusty, star-forming galaxy and an enormous, brightly glowing black hole called a quasar. 

And the cosmic behemoth could be just one of thousands of inexplicably large black holes lurking beneath the cloud cover of the early universe, the researchers suggest. They published their discovery Feb. 24 in the journal Monthly Notices of The Royal Astronomical Society

Related: 'Runaway' black hole the size of 20 million suns found speeding through space with a trail of newborn stars behind it

"Frankly, explaining the existence of around 15 very early luminous quasars [from the same time period as COS-87259] was a big challenge for extragalactic astronomy given how short of a time there is to grow such a massive black hole since the Big Bang," lead study author Ryan Endsley, an astronomer at the University of Texas, Austin, told Live Science. "If very early billion-solar-mass black holes are thousands of times more common than we originally thought (as implied by our discovery, unless you assume we were incredibly lucky) this just exacerbates the problem further."

A supermassive mystery

Black holes are born from the collapse of giant stars and grow by ceaselessly gorging on gas, dust, stars and other other black holes in the star-forming galaxies that contain them. If they grow large enough, friction causes the material spiraling into the black holes' maws to heat up, and they transform into quasars — shedding their gaseous cocoons with blasts of light up to a trillion times more luminous than the brightest stars.

Because light travels at a fixed speed through the vacuum of space, the deeper scientists look into the universe, the more remote light they intercept and the further back in time they see. Past simulations of the "cosmic dawn" — the epoch encompassing the first billion years of the universe — have suggested that billowing clouds of cold gas may have coalesced into giant stars that were doomed to rapidly collapse, creating black holes. As the universe grew, those first black holes may have quickly merged with others to seed even bigger supermassive black holes throughout the cosmos.

But how these chaotic conditions led to the creation of so many supermassive black holes is a mystery; one that is deepened by the possibility that the beasts could have numbered in their thousands when the universe had reached only 5% of its current age. One review paper has suggested that big, bright quasars are the easiest black holes to spot, so they are likely only the "tip of the iceberg" of the monsters hiding in the young cosmos.

The answer to this conundrum could point to a hole in our understanding of galaxy formation in the early universe. On Feb 22., another group of astronomers analyzing data from the The James Webb Space Telescope discovered a group of six gargantuan galaxies — aged between 500 to 700 million years after the Big Bang — that were so massive they were in tension with 99% of cosmological models.

A possible explanation may lie in the quantity and frenzied activity of the dense "starburst" clouds where the earliest black holes spawned. For instance, in April 2022, the discovery of another rapidly growing, transitioning black hole called GNz7q in a starburst galaxy the same age as COS-87259 showed that the galaxy was serving up freshly baked stars 1,600 times faster than the Milky Way does today. COS-87259 cooks at a slightly slower rate of 1,000 times the present Milky Way, yet its black hole is 20 times as massive and bright as GNz7q.

"The discovery of both COS-87259 and GNz7q within the past year was super surprising and really pushes us to ask how we can make sense of this from the standpoint of understanding very early supermassive black hole growth," Endsley said.

Originally published on LiveScience.

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Ben Turner
Live Science Staff Writer

Ben Turner is a U.K. based staff writer at Live Science. He covers physics and astronomy, among other topics like weird animals and climate change. He graduated from University College London with a degree in particle physics before training as a journalist. When he's not writing, Ben enjoys reading literature, playing the guitar and embarrassing himself with chess.

  • Pentcho Valev
    "Because light travels at a fixed speed through the vacuum of space..."

    Actually it doesn't. The speed of light gradually decreases, due to interaction with vacuum particles. The idea that vacuum slows down light has been largely discussed but only in terms of quantum gravity. The implication that the cosmological (Hubble) redshift might be due to slow speed of light (and therefore the universe is not expanding) is blocked by crimestop:

    "Some physicists, however, suggest that there might be one other cosmic factor that could influence the speed of light: quantum vacuum fluctuation. This theory holds that so-called empty spaces in the Universe aren't actually empty - they're teeming with particles that are just constantly changing from existent to non-existent states. Quantum fluctuations, therefore, could slow down the speed of light." https://www.sciencealert.com/how-much-do-we-really-know-about-the-speed-of-light

    "...in some quantum-gravity models, the speed of photons in gamma rays would be affected by the grainy nature of spacetime..." https://fqxi.org/community/articles/display/255

    Sabine Hossenfelder: "It's an old story: Quantum fluctuations of space-time might change the travel-time of light. Light of higher frequencies would be a little faster than that of lower frequencies. Or slower, depending on the sign of an unknown constant. Either way, the spectral colors of light would run apart, or 'disperse' as they say if they don't want you to understand what they say. Such quantum gravitational effects are miniscule, but added up over long distances they can become observable. Gamma ray bursts are therefore ideal to search for evidence of such an energy-dependent speed of light." http://backreaction.blogspot.fr/2017/01/what-burst-fresh-attempt-to-see-space.html

    George Orwell: "Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity."
  • Mr Nice Pressure
    Expanding galaxys was born inside / centre to outside. First born expanding supermassive concentrations with own 3 D big bang "in" 3 D space which never born. Space is eternal and infinity 3 D place which is nothing.

    Expanding supermassive concentrations emit expanding dark matter and new expanding stars was born a lot quaite quickly when two expanding supermassive concentrations moving near eachothers.


    Curved space a’la Einstein vs. expanding lights a’la Savorinen

    Yes, curved space is a hoot!
    It’s the emperor naked.

    Actually, all lights expand in space outward into the already existing space.
    Light waves consist of zillions of separate expanding condensations that cannot be registered with our expanding devices.
    Yes, also nucleus of atoms expanding and recycling dark expanding energy / pushing force which have a nature of electrons and photons which also expanding.
    For the generation of one expandable photon that can be registered, zillions of them are needed.
    What quarks expanding in space are needed for the birth of one star expanding in space.
    Really really a lot
    A zillion is not the right number, but it describes in this case that it is a very large number of separate densifications, which therefore expand and circulate among themselves the energy that disperses / expanding into space / pushing force.
    These discrete expanding densifications have an internal structure. Internal motion / time. Density and volume. Internal pressure.
    They are able to push through each other and during that time they interact with each other strongly, causing each other’s expansion to accelerate.
    That, in turn, causes the speed of the expanding light to accelerate away from where the expanding light is pushing away from.
    Expanding light therefore has its own internal pressure.
    All expanding lights form a common energy field expanding into space.
    Far away from the expanding stars, the expanding lights push straight ahead.
    When the expanding light passes close to the expanding star, its separate expanding condensations and separate expanding photons are exerted more of a pushing force on the side away from the expanding star.
    This is based on the fact that the expanding light, which has experienced entropy for billions of years, contains very small-scale condensations that collide with the expanding photons pushing past the expanding star, and thus by pushing them, they are pushed towards the expanding star.
    That is, the new expanding light originating from the expanding star does not yet contain the energy / pushing force of that scale, or at least not nearly as much pushing force / energy of that scale, and thus the expanding photons that push past the expanding star are hardly pushed away from the expanding star
    For the same reason, the so-called the gravitational lensing effect caused by galaxies.
    This view is scientific.
    We can try to manipulate the trajectory of light using light that is billions of years old.
    You can’t try to manipulate curved space in such a way that you could get any kind of information that this so-called the manipulation of curved space would have been successful.
    When you understand that actually the expanding waves of light that are dark to us consist of zillions of separate expanding condensations that interact with each other, you understand that the so-called expanding space is also needed to explain observations.
    The cosmological redshift of light is also explained by the fact that the expanding lights, which are dark to us, interact with each other and accelerate each other’s expansion and at the same time speed of movement.
    The more often the expanding light has entered the region of each other’s galaxy clusters or passed them, the more often its speed has been accelerated by fresher, more energetic and slightly faster expanding light, and thus the expanding light is more stretched the older it is.
    It makes no sense to explain the cosmological redshift of light in terms of space. That is, that kind of hokkokkok somehow somehow with the help of the expanding space.
    It can be explained in all its simplicity by the fact that all lights expand in space outward into the already existing space so that they interact with each other, etc.
    Of course, we have to think about what has happened to the cosmologically redshifted light as it has moved through space.
    There is no reason to think about what would have happened to space.
    After all, we haven’t observed the expanding space.
    We have observed cosmologically redshifted LIGHT.
    Think about that every time you read silly nonsense about the expanding space.
    With the help of the current atomic model, you cannot create a theory of everything in physics
    Physicists have to accept the fact that everything basically consists of one and the same physically concretely existing thing, which is naturally already a pushing force in itself.
    By existing, a density consisting of this physically concretely existing thing, i.e. a system in which this physically concretely existing thing is denser than outside that system, takes its own space from the infinite 3D space.
    In its place relative to the environment, another similar density cannot be pushed, if it is not first pushed away from that point relative to the environment.
    This way we can understand that it itself consists of something physically concrete to which a pushing force can be applied, so that it itself applies to its environment what it is made of, i.e. a pushing force.
    When you understand that this one thing, of which everything basically consists, is already a pushing force in itself, you also understand that there is nothing that is a pulling force.
    It’s all about which direction to push more and which direction to push less.
    Thus, everything tends to push towards where it is least pushed away from.
    When we are on the surface of the expanding Earth, by pushing us, we are pushed upwards, that is, away from the center of the expanding Earth. As the Earth expands and we ourselves expand in infinite 3D space outwards into already existing space.
    Of course, the separate expanding densifications of our expanding atomic cores are also pushed toward the center of the expanding Earth.
    So it is not easy for us to escape the surface of the expanding Earth.
    For that, we need a space-expanding rocket whose space-expanding fuel we can make expand faster than normal in space outward into the already existing space.
    That’s enough explosive/expanding thrust in space to push the expanding rocket away from the center of the expanding Earth faster than the surface of the expanding Earth pushes away from the center of the expanding Earth.
    The first premise that physicists have to understand and accept is that quarks and of course also photons have density and volume. Internal structure. Internal motion / time.
    Internal PRESSURE. And that internal pressure causes the matter / energy / pushing force in the quarks and photons to spread outward in space into the already existing space.
    Observations should not be explained using space. It’s a loser’s business. Einstein opened the Pandora’s box of physics when he grabbed the concept of curved space out of his hat.
    Curved space is the naked emperor.
    The lights expanding in space interact with each other, accelerating each other’s expansion, and thus the speed of the expanding lights accelerates in the same proportion as the matter and the lights expand.
    And this has already been scientifically proven.
    And you would also accept it if Einstein hadn’t pulled a new god out of his hat and named it curved space.
    Now, however, you believe in the existence of that god, the curved space. And Einstein is to blame for this. And you yourself.
    Let’s think that Einstein would have presented the same thing as me, i.e. that the nuclei of atoms expand and circulate a dark expanding pushing force which has e.g. nature of expanding light.
    He would have said that the electrons and photons that can be registered are created from this dark energy that disperses/expands into space, so that electrons and photons also expand, because they consist of this energy that disperses/expands into space, which therefore has an internal pressure that causes it to disperse all the time in space to a larger and larger area of space .
    He would have said that, for example, the trajectory of the expanding light pushing past the Sun bends towards the Sun, because the light expanded in space for billions of years, which is also pushed towards the Sun, contains a pushing force that pushes the photons pushing past the Sun towards the Sun.
    Einstein would have predicted that during a solar eclipse this could be proven by observing the stars in the background of the Sun whose location is known.
    And then it would have been scientifically proven.
    And no one ever anywhere after that would have thought of making an idiotic claim about the hokkus pokkus space which always curves, expands, undulates, twists, stretches and bangs according to what is needed to explain some observation.
    Only losers explain observations with space, because they are unable to explain observations with the help of systems that move in space and change in space.
    Hokkus pokkus space is easy to give properties with which hokkus pokkus space always does this and that according to what needs to be explained at any time without actually explaining anything at all.
    Expanding space is the naked emperor
    Expanding space is a hoot
    Curved space is a hoot
    The undulating space is a hoot
    Rotating space is a hoot
    None of these hokkus pokkus spaces are needed.
    It is enough that the lights consist for the most part of dark expanding waves which, when interacting with each other, accelerate each other’s expansion and thus cause each other’s speed to accelerate in the same proportion as matter and light expand.
    When you understand and grasp this, you realize that there is no need for such haphazard spaces.
    At the same time, many things that have remained mysteries until now are explained without inexplicable dark matter, dark energies, pulling forces, etc.
    As well as
    1. The cosmological redshift of light
    2. The so-called gravitational lens effect
    3. The so-called gravitational redshift
    4. Double slit test
    5. How lights always know how to move at the speed characteristic of light.
    Read more about how the universe really works
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