Large numbers of supermassive black holes can be seen in an incredible new picture that astronomers said is the deepest X-ray image of the sky ever captured.
Researchers said the concentration of black holes in the central region of the picture over an area the size of the full moon is completely unprecedented.
“With this one amazing picture, we can explore the earliest days of black holes in the universe and see how they change over billions of years,” Researcher Niel Brandt of Pennsylvania State University said in a statement.
The photo shows about 80 days’ worth of data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory spacecraft in a patch of sky about one-half the width of the full moon as seen from Earth. Approximately 7 out of every 10 objects in the photo are supermassive black holes. These black holes lie at the hearts of galaxies and hold up to 10 billion times the mass of the sun, according to team members on the study.
The Chandra X-ray Observatory detects black holes by spotting the X-ray radiation emitted by material spiraling toward the objects’ event horizons, the points beyond which nothing can escape.
“It can be very difficult to detect black holes in the early universe, because they are so far away and they only produce radiation if they’re actively pulling in matter,” study team member Bin Luo said. “But by staring long enough with Chandra, we can find and study large numbers of growing black holes, some of which appear not long after the Big Bang.”
Analyses of this incredible photo suggests that black holes grew in bursts, rather than gradually, in the first 1 billion to 2 billion years after the Big Bang. These findings could help explain a cosmic mystery: how black holes came to populate the early universe, despite not having much time to grow.
“By detecting X-rays from such distant galaxies, we’re learning more about the formation and evolution of stellar-mass and supermassive black holes in the early universe,” said study team member Fabio Vito. “We’re looking back to times when black holes were in crucial phases of growth, similar to hungry infants and adolescents.”
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