New Evidence Suggests Some Early Supermassive Black Holes Formed During the Direct Collapse of a Gas Cloud

 

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Combined data from Spitzer, Hubble and the Chandra X-ray Observatory were used to create this illustration of the direct collapse of a gas cloud into a supermassive black hole. Credit: NASA/Chandra/Spitzer/Hubble/ESA.

The seed out of which some of these mysterious, lurking monsters were born

Space news (astrophysics: black hole formation: early black holes) – supermassive black holes scattered around the observable universe – 

Astronomers believe and data suggests at the center of nearly all large galaxies, including the Milky Way, lurks a supermassive black hole with millions and even billions of times the mass of our sun. Gigantic black holes that in some cases formed less than a billion years after the birth of the cosmos. For the first time, they have uncovered evidence suggesting some of these early supermassive black holes formed directly during the collapse of a giant gas cloud. A finding making astronomers rethink current theories on the formation of these enigmatic, invisible monsters.

 

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This illustration shows a supermassive black hole at the core of a galaxy far, far away. Light skimming past the event horizon (black area) is stretched and distorted like light hitting a fun house mirror.Credits: NASA, ESA, and D. Coe, J. Anderson, and R. van der Marel (STScI)

“Our discovery, if confirmed, explains how these monster black holes were born,” said Fabio Pacucci of Scuola Normale Superiore (SNS) in Pisa, Italy, who led the study. “We found evidence that supermassive black hole seeds can form directly from the collapse of a giant gas cloud, skipping any intermediate steps.”

 

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This Hubble Space Telescope’s spectrograph image shows a zig-zag pattern representing rapidly rotating gas (880, 000 mph) within 26 light-years of the supermassive black hole at the core of galaxy M84. Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble.

Intermediate steps like the formation of a supermassive star and its subsequent destruction during a supernova. Evidence to date suggests black holes are formed during this process and then supermassive black holes are produced by mergers between black holes. But this new finding suggests things get a little weirder than first thought. Maybe things are weirder than we could ever imagine. It could be the first supermassive black holes seeds were intermediate mass black holes, monsters in the 20,000 solar mass range. Watch this YouTube video on black hole formation.

 

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Within the inset region in this composite Hubble and Chandra X-ray image is shown the Monster of the Milky Way -Sagittarius A- A 4 million solar mass supermassive black hole astronomers believe lurks at the core of the Milky Way’s nuclear star cluster. Credit: NASA/ESA/Chandra/Hubble.

Imagine the volume of a gas cloud capable of contracting directly into an object tens times, or more, the mass of Sol. Black hole seeds built up by drawing in cold gas and dust appear to have formed within the first billion years of the cosmos. Maybe once they confirm the existence of the two black hole seeds they think they detected. They can try to get some data on the mass of these early black hole seeds. At the moment, no mass data is available. Watch this YouTube video on black hole seeds.

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This artist’s conception of an estimated 20 million solar mass supermassive black hole at the core of one of the smallest, densest galaxies ever discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. 

The forming of a supermassive black hole directly from the collapse of a massive cloud of gas seems even weirder than the observed formation process for supermassive black holes. But we’re not in Kansas anymore, so anything could theoretically be possible. I am certain, things are even weirder than we can imagine.

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This artist’s conception of two supermassive holes entwined in a death spiral destined to end in the birth of a bigger version of the two monsters is called WISE J233237.05-505643.5. At 3.8 billion light-years this is one of the most distant suspected supermassive black holes binary systems detected. Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI.

“There is a lot of controversy over which path these black holes take,” said co-author Andrea Ferrara, also of SNS. “Our work suggests we are narrowing in on an answer, where the black holes start big and grow at the normal rate, rather than starting small and growing at a very fast rate.”

A black hole located in the middle of the spiral galaxy NGC 4178
The inset image in this Chandra X-ray Observatory image of spiral galaxy NGC 4178 shows an X-ray source at the location of a suspected 200,000 solar mass supermassive black hole. This monster is one of the lowest mass supermassive black holes ever detected at the core of a galaxy. Astronomers are studying this supermassive black hole closely since its also located in a galaxy not expected to host such a monster. All of the data collected seems to indicate a slightly different origin, which makes astronomers a little curious. Drredit: NASA/ESA/ Chandra/.

The team used computer models of the formation of black hole seeds combined with new techniques and methods to identify two possible candidates for early supermassive black holes in long-exposure Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer images. The data collected on these two candidates matches the theoretical profile expected and estimates of their age suggest they formed when the cosmos was less than a billion years old. But more study is needed to verify the data and existence of these theoretical early black hole seeds.

 

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Astronomers recently detected the Monster of the Milky Way -Sagittarius A- snacking on material passing too close, possibly an asteroid. The resulting X-ray flares detected in September 2013 were the largest ever recorded during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, so far. Credit: NASA/ESA/Chandra.

“Black hole seeds are extremely hard to find and confirming their detection is very difficult,” said Andrea Grazian, a co-author from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy. “However, we think our research has uncovered the two best candidates to date.”

 

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Astronomers combined X-ray data from Chandra with microwave and visible images to reveal jets and radio-emitting lobes emanating from the 55 million solar mass central supermassive black hole in galaxy Centaurus A (NGC 5128). Credit: NASA/ESA/Chandra.

What’s next?

The team plans additional observations to see if these two candidates have other properties of black hole seeds as computer simulations predict. Real evidence to prove or disprove their early supermassive black hole formation theory might have to wait for a few years. Until the James Webb Space Telescope, European Extremely Large Telescope and other assets come online. The team and other astronomers are currently designing the theoretical framework needed to interpret future data and pinpoint the existence of some of the first supermassive black holes ever to exist. Watch this YouTube video on the jet of Centaurus A.

 

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This optical/radio composite image shows the vast radio-emitting lobes of Centaurus A in orange extending nearly a million light-years from the galaxy. The image of the right here shows the inner 4.16 light-years of the jet and counter-jet of this estimated 55 million solar mass monster. Credit: NASA.

Read the scientific paper released on the first identification of black hole seeds here

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Learn more about two dancing, merging supermassive black holes astronomers are watching closely.

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Spiral Galaxy NGC 4845

A flat and dust-filled disk orbiting a bright galactic bulge

Image credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble
Deep within the dusty center of spiral galaxy NGC 4845, hides a monster with hundreds of thousands of times the mass of our sun. Image credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble

Space news (February 20, 2016) – over 65 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo (The Virgin) –

This startling Hubble Space Telescope image of spiral galaxy NGC 4845 highlights its spiral structure but hides a monster. Deep within the center astronomers have detected a supermassive black hole, estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of times the mass of Sol. 

By following the movements of the innermost stars of NGC 4845, astronomers were able to determine they orbit around the center of the galaxy at a velocity indicating the presence of a supermassive black hole. 

Scientists previously used the same method to discover the presence of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way – Sagittarius A*. The Monster of the Milky Way has a mass around 4 million times that of our sun, which is slightly bigger than the supermassive black hole at the center of NGC 4845.

Astronomers also discovered the supermassive black hole deep within the center of NGC 4845 is a hungry monster that devours anything that falls too far into its gravity well. In 2013 astronomers studying a different island universe, noticed a violent flare erupting from the center of NGC 4845. 

Astronomers discovered an object many times the mass of Jupiter had fallen into the gravity well of this monster and was devoured. The violent flare erupting from the center of NGC 4845 was the death throes of a brown dwarf or large planet as it was being torn apart and drawn deeper into the gravity well of the supermassive black hole.

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The Monster of the Milky Way Comes to Life

Erupting X-ray flares every day, a ten-fold increase in bright flares from previous observations of Sagittarius A

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Astronomers believe the ten-fold increase in X-ray flares during the past year could be connected to the passage of a mysterious object designated G2 near the supermassive black hole (Image credit NASA and ESO

Space news (October 01, 2015) – 26,000 light-years from Earth, near the center of the Milky Way

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is part of a new breed of star hunting telescopes.
NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is part of a new breed of star hunting telescopes.

Astrophysicists combining the telescopic talents of NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Swift spacecraft, with the European Space Agency’s X-ray Space Observatory XMM-Newton, recently detected an increase in X-ray flares erupting from the supermassive black hole (Sagittarius A) at the center of the Milky Way.

NASA's Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer scans the universe looking for gamma ray bursts.
NASA’s Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer scans the universe looking for gamma ray bursts.

By analyzing data collected during extensive periods of monitoring by all three spacecraft, space scientists determined the Monster of the Milky Way – the supermassive black hole at the center with more than 4 million times the mass of Sol– has been more active during the past 15 years than first thought. 

An artists impression of the ESO's Newton XMM-Newton telescope.
An artists impression of the ESO’s Newton XMM-Newton telescope.

Erupting a bright X-ray flare every ten days, the Monster of the Milky Way has been eating hot gas falling into its gravity pool. Even more interesting, Sagittarius A during the past year has been erupting ten times as much, producing a bright X-ray flare every day. A discovery that has astrophysicists going over the data looking for a reason for the sudden increase. 

“For several years, we’ve been tracking the X-ray emission from Sgr A*. This includes also the close passage of this dusty object” said Gabriele Ponti of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany. “A year or so ago, we thought it had absolutely no effect on Sgr A*, but our new data raise the possibility that that might not be the case.”

The mystery started late in 2013, as G2 passed close to the supermassive black hole. At this time, there wasn’t any apparent change in G2 as it approached Sagittarius A, other than being slightly stretched by the gravity pool of the black hole.

Originally astronomers thought G2 was a stretched cloud of gas and dust, but this finding has led scientists to the possibility it could be a dense body embedded in a dusty cocoon. Currently, there’s no consensus among astronomers on the identity of this mysterious object. But the recent ten-fold increase in X-ray flares as G2 passed near the supermassive black hole suggests there could be a connection of some kind. 

“There isn’t universal agreement on what G2 is,” said Mark Morris of the University of California at Los Angeles. “However, the fact that Sgr A* became more active not long after G2 passed by suggests that the matter coming off of G2 might have caused an increase in the black hole’s feeding rate.”

At this point, astronomers don’t know if the increase in X-ray flares from the supermassive black hole is common or unusual in nature. These emissions could be part of the normal life cycle of supermassive black holes and totally unrelated to the passage of G2. The ten-fold increase in X-ray flares could also be due to changing solar winds from nearby massive stars feeding gas and dust into the black hole.

What’s next?

Scientists will keep observing Sagittarius A over the next little while to see what pops up next in this mystery. Hopefully, they can shed some light on the reason the Monster of the Milky Way, suddenly started emitting X-ray flares once a day.  

“It’s too soon to say for sure, but we will be keeping X-ray eyes on Sgr A* in the coming months,” said co-author Barbara De Marco, also of Max Planck. “Hopefully, new observations will tell us whether G2 is responsible for the changed behavior or if the new flaring is just part of how the black hole behaves.”

Read about plans of private firm Planetary Resources, Inc. to mine a near-Earth asteroid in the next decade or less.

Learn more about a magnetar astronomers believe is orbiting extremely close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, Sagittarius A.

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Watch this Nova video on the Monster of the Milky Way.

Magnetar Extremely Close to Supermassive Black Hole at Center of Milky Way

Exhibiting a higher surface temperature and slower decrease in the rate of x-rays emitted than previous neutron stars detected during the human journey to the beginning of space and time

The x-ray image here taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory shows a view of the region surrounding the supermassive black hole thought to exist at the center of the Milky Way. The red, green and blue seen in the main image are low, medium and high-energy x-rays respectively. The inset image to the left was taken between 2005 and 2008, when the magnetar wasn't detected. The image to the right was taken in 2013, when the neutron star appeared as the bright x-ray source viewed.
The x-ray image here taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory shows a view of the region surrounding the supermassive black hole thought to exist at the center of the Milky Way. The red, green and blue seen in the main image are low, medium and high-energy x-rays respectively. The inset image to the left was taken between 2005 and 2008, when the magnetar wasn’t detected. The image to the right was taken in 2013, when the neutron star appeared as the bright x-ray source viewed.

Space news (August 15, 2015) –

Space scientists working with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton Observatory in 2013 discovered a magnetar dangerously close to the supermassive black hole (Sagittarius A) thought to exist at the center of the Milky Way. At a distance of around 0.3 light-years or 2 trillion miles from the 4-million-solar mass black hole, the neutron star (called SGR 1745-2900) detected is likely orbiting slowly into the gravitational pool of the supermassive black hole. One day, far in the future, the two will merge during an event likely spectacular and unfathomable to both the scientist and layperson.

For the last two years, NASA and European space agency scientists have been monitoring SGR 1745-2900, and have discovered its acting unlike any magnetar discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

The rate of X-rays emitted by the magnetar is decreasing slower than other neutron stars viewed and its surface temperature is higher. Facts that are making astrophysicists rethink their theories on neutron stars and develop new ideas to explain how this happens.

Could the close proximity of the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A be the cause?

Considering the extreme distance between the supermassive black hole and magnetar, astrophysicists don’t think this could be the reason for the slower decrease in X-ray emissions and higher surface temperature of SGR 1745-2900. At the distance of 2 trillion miles, they believe the magnetar is too far away for the gravity and magnetic fields of the two to interact enough for this to occur.

The current model developed by astrophysicists to explain the unexpected slower rate of X-ray emissions and higher surface temperature of SGR 1745-2900 involves “starquakes”. Seismic waves astrophysicists think are more energetic than a 23rd magnitude earthquake on Earth, scientists found the starquake model doesn’t explain the slow decrease in X-ray brightness and the higher surface temperature detected.

To explain the new data obtained through study using the Chandra X-ray Observatory NASA astrophysicists have suggested a new model. The bombardment of the surface of SGR 1745-2900 by charged particles trapped within magnetic fields above its surface could add enough heat to account for the higher surface temperature and account for the slower decrease in X-ray emissions.

Study continues

NASA scientists will now continue their study of magnetar SGR 1745-2900 as it orbits Sagittarius A looking for clues to verify their new model. Study and understanding of this and other magnetars will provide clues to the events that occurred during the earliest moments of the universe. Events that can tell us more about the universe we reside in and the true nature of spacetime.

You can learn more about supermassive black holes here.

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