It took 13 billion years, but light from the first black holes in the universe is finally reaching our telescopes.
And now that we can see the light, we now know more about how these distant space phenomena formed, a new study suggests. “In this study, we have uncovered a totally new mechanism that sparks the formation of massive black holes,” study lead author John Wise, an astrophysicist at Georgia Tech, said in a statement.
That new mechanism is the rapid growth of “halos” of dark matter, the mysterious stuff that makes up most of the material universe (and is so named because it neither absorbs nor reflects light), according to Space.com.
“Instead of just considering radiation, we need to look at how quickly the halos grow,” Wise added. “We don’t need that much physics to understand it – just how the dark matter is distributed and how gravity will affect that. Forming a massive black hole requires being in a rare region with an intense convergence of matter.”
Wise and his colleagues came to this conclusion after analyzing supercomputer simulations of the early universe’s evolution, Space.com reported.
The researchers said that when galaxies form quickly, very massive black holes can form. In those rare galaxies, normal star formation is disrupted and black hole formation takes over.
The study also found that these massive black holes are much more common in the universe than had been previously thought, CNN said.
Amazingly, that light released from around the first massive black holes in the universe is so intense that it can reach telescopes across the entire expanse of the universe. Incredibly, the light from the most distant black holes has been traveling to us for more than 13 billion light years.
The study appeared in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature.