Gas Reservoirs Might Explain a Supermassive Black Holes Mystery

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Scientists have noticed tanks of cold gas around some of the oldest galaxies in the Universe with the help of ESO’s Very Large Telescope. These gas coronas are an excellent source of consumption for supermassive black holes located at the core of these galaxies, which are now observed as they were more than 12.5 billion years ago. The storage might explain how these cosmic bodies developed at such an accelerated rate during a time in the Universe’s background known as ‘The Cosmic Dawn.’

“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,” says Emanuele Paolo Farina, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, main author of the paper published in The Astrophysical Journal. “This adds a fundamental piece to the puzzle that astronomers are building to picture how cosmic structures formed more than 12 billion years ago,” she adds.

Astronomers have always pondered how supermassive black holes could evolve in such large forms so early in the development history of the Universe. Farina explained that the presence of the supermassive black holes, with masses multiple billion times the mass of the Sun, is a baffling enigma.

This means that the first black holes, which might have developed from the crash of the first stars, must have increased in size incredibly fast. However, until now, scientists had not detected a ‘black hole food,’ which is gas and dust, in sufficiently large amounts to explain their accelerate growth.

Gas Reservoirs Might Explain a Supermassive Black Holes Mystery

To put a lid on this mystery, Farina and his fellow teammates used the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope to analyze quasars, which are incredibly bright bodies powered by supermassive black holes located at the core of gigantic galaxies.

The research analyzed 31 quasars and found that 12 of them were encircled by massive gas reservoirs full of cold, dense hydrogen gas expanding 100,000 light-years from the black holes at the core and with billions of times the mass of our Sun. The team of astronomers also discovered that these gas tanks were firmly bound to the galaxies, offering the perfect food source to maintain the expanding of supermassive black holes, as well as the robust star formation.

While quasars are incredibly bright, the gas halos surrounding them are much tricky to notice. However, MUSE could discover the dim glow of the hydrogen gas in the coronas, enabling scientists to finally uncover the food source that power supermassive black holes in the early Universe.

Going forward, ESO’s Very Large Telescope will aid astronomers to learn even more information regarding the galaxies and supermassive black holes in the first couple of billion years after the Big Bang occurred. “With the power of the ELT, we will be able to delve even deeper into the early Universe to find many more such gas nebulae,” Farina states. The study is written in a paper scheduled to appear in The Astrophysical Journal.

As our second lead editor, Anna C. Mackinno provides guidance on the stories Great Lakes Ledger reporters cover. She has been instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. If you see a particularly clever title, you can likely thank Anna. Anna received a BA and and MA from Fordham University.