Black Hole From the Beginning of Time Has Galaxies Caught in Its ‘Spider Web’

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Artist’s impression of the ancient web-like structure, featuring a central supermassive black hole, copious amounts of gas, and at least six primordial galaxies.

Artist’s impression of the ancient web-like structure, featuring a central supermassive black hole, copious amounts of gas, and at least six primordial galaxies.
Image: ESO

A remote structure consisting of a supermassive black hole, several primordial galaxies, and copious amounts of gas finally explains how some of the earliest black holes were able to grow so quickly.

The deeper we look into space, the further we look back into time. In this case, astronomers have caught a glimpse of the universe when it was just a toddler—a mere 900 million years after the Big Bang. Using a batch of powerful telescopes, and after a decade’s worth of astronomical observations, an international team of scientists has confirmed the presence of multiple primordial galaxies caught under the influence of an unusually large and bright supermassive black hole, the light from which took 12.9 billion years to reach Earth.

“This is the first spectroscopic identification of a galaxy overdensity around a supermassive black hole in the first billion years of the Universe,” wrote the researchers in their study, published today in Astronomy & Astrophysics. The “absence of earlier detections of such systems is likely due to observational limitations,” they added.

Indeed, astronomers have never seen this sort of thing before, but it’s not entirely unexpected, as the astral arrangement is helping to explain the early appearance of supermassive black holes. As the new research suggests, these web-like structures provided a gas-filled environment in which the first black holes were able to feed and grow.

“The galaxies stand and grow where the filaments cross, and streams of gas—available to fuel both the galaxies and the central supermassive black hole—can flow along the filaments,” explained Marco Mignoli, the lead author of the study and an astronomer at the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF)