What causes black holes? Data from James Webb helped make a new discovery

February 9, 2024  17:13

The conundrum of the primacy between stars and black holes is akin to the age-old chicken-and-egg problem: which came first? We observe massive stars transforming into black holes, a proven fact. Simultaneously, we detect the presence of supermassive black holes in the early universe, which wouldn't have had time to reach the recorded masses. It appears that the James Webb Space Telescope is poised to provide an answer to this enigma. 

Recently, in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, a group of scientists from Johns Hopkins University in the USA and Sorbonne University in France published a paper presenting data collected by Webb on discovered black holes in the early universe. This data adds further evidence to the hypothesis of simultaneous birth of stars and black holes. Over time, these observations will expand and complement, ultimately enabling the formulation of a coherent theory of the evolution of objects in the universe and the universe itself. 

Scientists note that Webb identified a supermassive black hole 470 million years after the Big Bang and another one 400 million years later. The mass of the latter was estimated at around 1.6 million solar masses. It resided at the center of a galaxy lighter than the black hole in its core. A black hole of such mass couldn't have grown to a fixed value. From observations, it follows that black holes emerged after the collapse of dying stars with masses exceeding 50 solar masses. However, such events couldn't have occurred in the early universe to produce the observed effect—a tiny galaxy formed around a supermassive black hole. 

Researchers conclude that primordial black holes formed simultaneously with the first stars or slightly earlier, from clouds of primordial matter. The centers of these clouds collapsed, and the resulting black holes began emitting winds, triggering and accelerating the process of star formation. In essence, primordial black holes became the instruments that gathered and transformed galaxies into the structures we observe. 

"We propose that gas jets emanate from black holes, turning them into stars and significantly accelerating the rate of star formation," say the authors of the paper. "We cannot directly see these strong winds or jets from afar, but we are confident they must exist because we observe many black holes in the early stages of the universe's development."

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