The light emitted by massive black holes from the early universe is so strong that even our telescopes can catch it. Scientists say these distant black holes, or quasars, can cast signals which travel more than 13 billion light years to find us. A team of researchers spent time studying those signals recently.
Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Dublin City University, Michigan State University, the University of California at San Diego, the San Diego Supercomputer Center and IBM conducted a study which they believe could shed light on how massive black holes from the early universe formed. They explained how the formation of a black hole can disrupt the formation of a regular star.
The study was published in the journal Nature, and it was backed by the National Science Foundation, the European Union and NASA. The results suggest massive black holes may be more common than previously thought.
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“In this study, we have uncovered a totally new mechanism that sparks the formation of massive black holes in particular dark matter halos,” lead author John Wise of the Center for Relativistic Astrophysics at Georgia Tech said in a statement. “Instead of just considering radiation, we need to look at how quickly the halos grow. We don’t need that much physics to understand it—just how the dark matter is distributed and how gravity will affect that. Forming a massive black hole requires being in a rare region with an intense convergence of matter.”
To conduct the study, scientists used the Renaissance Simulation suite, a 70-terabyte data set compiled on the Blue Waters supercomputer between 2011 and 2014. They believe the data could suggest how the universe grew during its earliest days. To learn more about areas where massive black holes were likely to develop, they studied the data and identified 10 dark-matter halos, which they said should have formed stars but instead only contained a gas cloud.
“It was only in these overly-dense regions of the universe that we saw these black holes forming,” Wise said. “The dark matter creates most of the gravity, and then the gas falls into that gravitational potential, where it can form stars or a massive black hole.”
The Renaissance Simulations are considered to be the most comprehensive simulations for learning about massive black holes from the early universe. Researchers believe the simulations demonstrate the earliest stages of the gravitational creation of gas from hydrogen and helium. Scientists believe their combination with dark matter led to the creation of the first stars and galaxies.
Future work will look at the lifespans and cycles of massive black hole formation and galaxies. The researchers also plan to study their formation, growth and evolution.
“The Renaissance Simulations are sufficiently rich that other discoveries can be made using data already computed,” study co-author Michael Norman of the San Diego Supercomputer Center said in the statement. “For this reason we have created a public archive at SDSC containing called the Renaissance Simulations Laboratory where others can pursue questions of their own.”