At the heart of most galaxies, including our own Milky Way, lies a supermassive black hole, millions of times bigger than the sun, but how these monsters got their start has been a mystery.
One idea is that the black holes began by pulling in gas from surrounding areas. Another option is that they formed as smaller black holes merged together.
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Now, observations from a trio of space telescopes suggest a third mechanism for birthing black holes - the collapse of gas clouds.
"We found evidence that supermassive black hole seeds can form directly from the collapse of a giant gas cloud, skipping any intermediate steps," astronomer Fabio Pacucci, with the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy, said in a press release.
"There is a lot of controversy over which path these black holes take," added astronomer Andrea Ferrara, also with SNS. "Our work suggests we are narrowing in on an answer, where the black holes start big and grow at the normal rate, rather than starting small and growing at a very fast rate."
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Using computer models and observations made by the Hubble, Chandra X-ray and Spitzer infrared space telescopes, astronomers found two strong candidates for black hole seeds, both of which matched the predicted red color, seen by Hubble and Spitzer, as well as the X-ray profile predicted from Chandra.
Distance measurements indicate they may have formed with the universe was less than 1 billion years old.
"These objects were found in the Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey and the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey-South surveys. The next steps will involve getting more data on these two intriguing objects as well as extending the analysis to other surveys to look for more direct-collapse black hole candidates," NASA said in a press release.
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The research will be published in the June 21 issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.