Astrophysicist Discovers Oldest, Largest Black Hole Yet

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An international team of astrophysicists, including Andy Goulding of Princeton, has discovered the most distant supermassive black hole ever using two NASA space telescopes: the Chandra X-ray Observatory (Chandra) and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

The black hole, estimated to be 10 to 100 million times more massive than our Sun, is located 13.2 billion light-years away in the galaxy UHZ-1, meaning the telescopes are looking back in time to when the universe ‘ was extremely young. ” said Goulding – only about 450 million years old.

“This is one of the most dramatic discoveries made by the James Webb Space Telescope” and the discovery of the most distant growing supermassive black hole known, said Michael Strauss, professor and chairman of astrophysical sciences at Princeton, who led the discussed findings with the researchers, but was not part of the research team. “Indeed, it completely breaks the old record.”

Astrophysicists combined data from JWST and the Chandra X-ray Observatory to identify the growing black hole at the center of this image.

X-ray image: NASA/CXC/SAO/Akos Bogdan et al.; Infrared: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI; Image processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/L. Frattare, K. Arcand

Exactly how the first black holes formed in the universe’s infancy has long been a debate among astronomers.

“Now that we have finally discovered a black hole that big when the universe was so young, we learn that the black hole must have been very big when it first formed, probably from the direct collapse of a huge gas cloud ,” says Goulding, a researcher in Princeton’s department of astrophysical sciences.

It also means astronomers can rule out other formation models, such as the death of the first massive stars, because these cannot produce a black hole large enough to explain UHZ-1, he added.

“The black hole only has a very short time to grow,” he said. “This means that it either grew extremely quickly, or the black hole was simply born bigger.”

Goulding is one of the lead authors of the primary paper announcing the result, and the lead author of a separate paper in The Astrophysical Journal Letters detailing the galaxy’s mass and extraordinary distance, which was crucial to the overall result.

“Results like these show why NASA has a portfolio of elite telescopes,” said Mark Clampin, director of astrophysics at NASA, in a press release about the primary paper. “Everyone has their own superpowers, so to speak, and they can achieve amazing things when they join forces.”

“We needed Webb to find this remarkably distant galaxy and Chandra to find its supermassive black hole,” Ákos Bogdán of the Center for Astrophysics-Harvard & Smithsonian said in the press release. Bogdan is first author of the Nature Astronomy article.

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