Most Distant Active Supermassive Black Hole is found by Webb Telescope

Most Distant Active Supermassive Black Hole is found by Webb Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has unquestionably proven to be an effective tool for studying the universe. Using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), researchers discovered the most distant active supermassive black hole to date. CEERS 1019 was formed about 570 million years after the big bang, and its black hole is less massive than any other found in the early universe.

In addition to the black hole in CEERS 1019, the researchers discovered two smaller black holes that existed 1 billion and 1.1 billion years after the big bang. JWST also discovered eleven galaxies that existed between 470 million and 675 million years ago. JWST’s Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science (CEERS) Survey, led by Steven Finkelstein, an astronomy professor at The University of Texas at Austin, provided the evidence. The program combines JWST’s highly detailed near- and mid-infrared images and spectra data, which were all used to make these discoveries.

“Looking at this distant object with this telescope is a lot like looking at data from black holes that exist in galaxies near our own,” said Rebecca Larson, a recent Ph.D. graduate at UT Austin, who led the study. “There are so many spectral lines to analyze!”

The team has published these results in several initial papers in a special edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Looking at this distant object with this telescope is a lot like looking at data from black holes that exist in galaxies near our own. There are so many spectral lines to analyze!

Rebecca Larson

CEERS 1019 is notable not only for how long it has existed but also for how light its black hole is. It has a mass of around 9 million solar masses, which is far less than other black holes discovered in the early universe by other telescopes. These behemoths typically have more than a billion times the mass of the sun – and they are easier to spot because they are much brighter. The black hole within CEERS 1019 is 4.6 million times the mass of the sun, similar to the black hole at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy.

Though smaller, this black hole existed so much earlier that it is still difficult to explain how it formed so soon after the universe began. Researchers have long known that smaller black holes must have existed earlier in the universe, but it wasn’t until JWST began observing that they were able to make definitive detections.

Webb Telescope detects most distant active supermassive black hole

The team could not only distinguish which emissions in the spectrum are from the black hole and which are from its host galaxy, but they could also determine how much gas the black hole is consuming and the rate at which stars form in its host galaxy.

The researchers discovered that this galaxy is consuming as much gas as it can while also producing new stars. They looked to the images to figure out why this was happening. CEERS 1019 appears as three bright clumps rather than a single circular disc.

“We’re not used to seeing so much structure in images at these distances,” said CEERS team member Jeyhan Kartaltepe, an associate professor of astronomy at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. “A galaxy merger could be partly responsible for fueling the activity in this galaxy’s black hole, and that could also lead to increased star formation.”

These are just the first ground-breaking results of the CEERS Survey.

“Until now, research on early universe objects was mostly theoretical,” Finkelstein said. “With Webb, we can not only see black holes and galaxies at great distances, but we can also begin to accurately measure them.” That is the incredible power of this telescope.”

JWST data could be used to explain how early black holes formed in the future, revising researchers’ models of how black holes grew and evolved in the first several hundred million years of the universe’s history.