Near the start of the universe, approximately 12.5 billion years ago, supermassive black holes were fed gas “halos” that surrounded various galaxies, according to a new study.
Astronomers used the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) to make their observations, according to the study’s lead author, Emanuele Paolo Farina.
“We are now able to demonstrate, for the first time, that primordial galaxies do have enough food in their environments to sustain both the growth of supermassive black holes and vigorous star formation,” said Farina in a statement. “This adds a fundamental piece to the puzzle that astronomers are building to picture how cosmic structures formed more than 12 billion years ago.”
This image shows one of the gas halos newly observed with the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope superimposed to an older image of a galaxy merger obtained with ALMA. The large-scale halo of hydrogen gas is shown in blue, while the ALMA data is shown in orange. (Credit: ESO/Farina et al.; ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Decarli et al.)
Black holes, which exist in all sizes, including one that was recently found which has a mass 70 times greater than the Sun, consume dust and gas from surrounding galaxies in order to grow. As the gas halos cool, they’ve allowed the black holes to grow to massive sizes, the ESO added in the statement.
“The presence of these early monsters, with masses several billion times the mass of our Sun, is a big mystery,” Farina added. This means that the first black holes, which likely formed due to the collapse of the first stars, likely grew very fast, but up until now, astronomers had not witnessed any evidence of enough “black hole food” to support the growth.
The research has been published in The Astrophysical Journal.
Earlier this year, in a separate project, scientists released the first-ever image of a black hole, revealing the distant object in stunning detail.
The groundbreaking image was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope, an international project involving telescopes across the globe that describes itself as a “virtual Earth-sized telescope.” Telescopes in Hawaii, Arizona, Chile, Mexico, Spain and the South Pole participated in the ambitious research project.
The black hole in question was spotted in galaxy Messier 87 (M87), 55 million light-years away from Earth.
Fox News’ James Rogers contributed to this story.