Radiation from nearby galaxies helped fuel first monster black holes, says study

March 13, 2017, Columbia University
The massive black hole shown at left in this drawing is able to rapidly grow as intense radiation from a galaxy nearby shuts down star-formation in its host galaxy. Credit: John Wise, Georgia Tech

The appearance of supermassive black holes at the dawn of the universe has puzzled astronomers since their discovery more than a decade ago. A supermassive black hole is thought to form over billions of years, but more than two dozen of these behemoths have been sighted within 800 million years of the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.

In a new study in the journal Nature Astronomy, a team of researchers from Dublin City University, Columbia University, Georgia Tech, and the University of Helsinki, add evidence to one theory of how these ancient , about a billion times heavier than our sun, may have formed and quickly put on weight.

In computer simulations, the researchers show that a black hole can rapidly grow at the center of its host galaxy if a emits enough radiation to switch off its capacity to form stars. Thus disabled, the host galaxy grows until its eventual collapse, forming a black hole that feeds on the remaining gas, and later, dust, dying stars, and possibly other black holes, to become super gigantic.

"The collapse of the galaxy and the formation of a million-solar-mass black hole takes 100,000 years—a blip in cosmic time," says study co-author Zoltan Haiman, an astronomy professor at Columbia University. "A few hundred-million years later, it has grown into a billion-solar-mass . This is much faster than we expected."

In the , stars and formed as molecular hydrogen cooled and deflated a primordial plasma of hydrogen and helium. This environment would have limited black holes from growing very big as molecular hydrogen turned gas into stars far enough away to escape the black holes' gravitational pull. Astronomers have come up with several ways that supermassive black holes might have overcome this barrier.

In a 2008 study, Haiman and his colleagues hypothesized that radiation from a massive neighboring galaxy could split molecular hydrogen into atomic hydrogen and cause the nascent black hole and its to collapse rather than spawn new clusters of stars.

A later study led by Eli Visbal, then a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia, calculated that the nearby galaxy would have to be at least 100 million times more massive than our sun to emit enough radiation to stop star-formation. Though relatively rare, enough galaxies of this size exist in the early universe to explain the supermassive black holes observed so far.

Columbia University astronomy professor Zoltan Haiman explains the theory that he and his colleagues outline in a new study in Nature Astronomy. Credit: Columbia University

The current study, led by John Regan, a postdoctoral researcher at Ireland's Dublin City University, modeled the process using software developed by Columbia's Greg Bryan, and includes the effects of gravity, fluid dynamics, chemistry and radiation.

After several days of crunching the numbers on a supercomputer, the researchers found that the neighboring galaxy could be smaller and closer than previously estimated. "The nearby galaxy can't be too close, or too far away, and like the Goldilocks principle, too hot or too cold," said study coauthor John Wise, an associate astrophysics professor at Georgia Tech.

The current study, led by John Regan, a postdoctoral researcher at Ireland's Dublin City University, attempted to model the process. Using simulations to measure how radiation from one galaxy influenced black hole formation in the other, the researchers found that the neighboring galaxy could be smaller and closer than previously estimated.

"The nearby galaxy can't be too close, or too far away, and like the Goldilocks principle, too hot or too cold," said study coauthor John Wise, an associate astrophysics professor at Georgia Tech.

Though massive black holes are found at the center of most galaxies in the mature universe, including our own Milky Way, they are far less common in the infant universe. The earliest supermassive black holes were first sighted in 2001 through a telescope at New Mexico's Apache Point Observatory as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

The researchers hope to test their theory when NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble, goes online next year and beams back images from the early universe.

Other models of how these ancient behemoths evolved, including one in which black holes grow by merging with millions of smaller black holes and stars, await further testing. "Understanding how supermassive black holes form tells us how galaxies, including our own, form and evolve, and ultimately, tells us more about the universe in which we live," said Regan, at Dublin City University.

The study is titled, "Rapid formation of massive black holes in close proximity to embryonic protogalaxies."

Explore further: Oxymoronic black hole RGG 118 provides clues to growth

More information: Rapid formation of massive black holes in close proximity to embryonic protogalaxies, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/s41550-017-0075

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SiaoX
not rated yet Mar 14, 2017
The massive black hole is able to rapidly grow as intense radiation from a galaxy nearby shuts down star-formation in its host galaxy.
I can understand, that the proponents of the Big Bang model have increasing problems with explanation of massive black holes at distant areas of Universe, which the contemporary technology allows to observe. But I don't understand this logic. OK, the radiation of nearby galaxy would blow the interstellar gas from central black hole and it would slow down the formation of new stars around it. But this all makes less food for central black holes - not more.
SiaoX
not rated yet Mar 14, 2017
Not to say, that the distant areas of Universe don't exhibit particularly increased density of galaxies, especially not around massive black holes (quasars) observed there. This paradox has been raised many times, even by founder of the red shift, i.e. Edwin Hubble: the Hubble deep field should be particularly crowded with galaxies, which were supposed to be more closer each other in the past - but we don't observe it.
RNP
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 14, 2017
@SiaoX
... OK, the radiation of nearby galaxy would blow the interstellar gas from central black hole and it would slow down the formation of new stars around it. But this all makes less food for central black holes - not more.


You have misunderstood the article. It says:

"...the researchers show that a black hole can rapidly grow at the center of its host galaxy if a nearby galaxy emits enough radiation to switch off its capacity to form stars. Thus disabled, the host galaxy grows until its eventual collapse, forming a black hole that feeds on the remaining gas, and later, dust, dying stars, and possibly other black holes, to become super gigantic."

In other words, the radiation from the nearby galaxy ionizes the gas in the galaxy. THIS is what reduces its ability to form stars. The gas is then free to fall to the center to feed the BH. Hence, the reduced star formation causes the BH to grow faster. There is no gas "blown away".
cantdrive85
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 14, 2017
It is only hypothesis which claims this matter isn't already ionized. All one needs to do is open ones eyes to see 99.9999% of the Universe is plasma. You're correct that there is no gas blown away, it is plasma which primarily responds to EM forces in these regions.
SiaoX
not rated yet Mar 14, 2017
In other words, the radiation from the nearby galaxy ionizes the gas in the galaxy. THIS is what reduces its ability to form stars.
OK, the ionized gas expands and it becomes too dilute for to form the stars, but still too dense for to alow the growth of black holes. This hypothesis has its own problems, because it would lead into formation of giant but isolated black holes with low amount of stars around them, whereas the distant quasars are merely young galaxies, which are at the beginning of stellar evolution - not at the end of it.
Tuxford
1 / 5 (3) Mar 14, 2017
Merger maniacs Gone Wild! Ah yes, it is the Goldilocks scenario. That explains everything. Long live the Huge Bang Fantasy.

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