The report on the discovery of the oldest black hole in the Universe was peer-reviewed and published in the journal Nature. Thanks to the space observatory. James Webb in the distant and ancient galaxy GN-z11 managed to discover a central black hole of a record mass for those times. It remains to be seen how and why this happened, and it seems that this will require changing a number of cosmological theories.
An artist's impression of the GN-z11 galaxy. Image source: Pablo Carlos Budassi/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0
Galaxy GN-z11 was discovered in observations of the Hubble orbital telescope in 2016. This object is located 13.4 billion years away from us, that is, it existed at a time distant from the Big Bang by only 440 million years.. The launch of the James Webb Infrared Observatory promised many discoveries in the early Universe, because light from those times is so stretched as photons move through the abyss of time and space that it simply goes from the visible range to the infrared.
Spectral analysis of light from GN-z11 showed the presence of superheated carbon and neon ions in it. This indicated signs of accretion — the usual heating of matter before falling into a black hole. The emission in the spectral lines was so intense that the black hole literally eclipsed the host galaxy with its radiation. And no wonder, although the GN-z11 galaxy was 100 times smaller than the Milky Way, the black hole at its center pulled 1.6 million solar masses, while the black hole at the center of our galaxy has 4 million solar masses.
Now that scientists have become convinced of the existence of a black hole of such mass, unimaginable for those times, they will have to rewrite models and cosmological theories of the evolution of these objects and the Universe itself. It seems that Webb will not stop there, which will allow us to collect enough material to create new models of the appearance and growth of black holes and describe processes in the early Universe.
Galaxy GN-z11 in data from the Hubble telescope obtained in 2016. Image source: NASA, ESA
For example, based on current theories, the black hole at the center of GN-z11 should have been feeding on matter five times faster than we thought. Otherwise, it would not have gained detectable mass by 440 million years after the Big Bang. Also, it should have arisen not as a result of the collapse of a giant star, but directly from the collapse of interstellar gas that arose after the birth of the Universe. We will expect that the material collected by “Webb” will be enough to draw up new cosmological hypotheses, which will then turn into coherent theories.