The beginning of our universe was a dark, mysterious time.
And with the James Webb telescope, we’re about to see the darkest parts of the universe’s origins in real time.
While the team overseeing Webb continues commissioning of its scientific instruments for upcoming scientific missions, they are well aware of new discoveries in modern astronomy. Namely, the recent image released from the black hole in the center of the galaxy — which, for the Webb team, emphasizes the need for the space telescope to look unspeakably far back in time, when the universe was about 700 million years old.
And according to a recent blog post NASA’s James Webb telescope could even reveal how puzzling “hypermassive” black holes came to be—that seem to be growing faster than they’ve had time.
The James Webb Space Telescope could reveal how primordial black holes formed so quickly
“One of the most exciting areas of discovery that Webb is about to open is the search for primordial black holes in the early Universe,” Robert Maiolino, a member of Webb’s Near-Infrared Spectrometer (NIRSpec) science team, said in the blog post. “These are the seeds of the much more massive black holes that astronomers have found in galactic cores. Most (probably all) galaxies contain black holes at their centers, with masses ranging from millions to billions of times the mass of our sun.”
“These supermassive black holes have grown so large by swallowing matter around them and also by merging smaller black holes,” Maiolino added. “An intriguing finding was the discovery of hypermassive black holes, with masses of several billion solar masses, that were already present when the universe was only about 700 million years old, a small fraction of its current age of 13.8 billion years.”
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This baffled scientists, because when the universe was so young, there doesn’t seem to be enough time available in the cosmos’ lifetime to support the growth of such hypermassive black holes. At least, according to theories considered standard today† “One possibility is that due to the death of the very first generation of stars in the early Universe, black holes have accumulated material at exceptionally high speeds,” Maiolino said.
The James Webb Telescope is the ideal ‘time machine’
“Another scenario is that primordial, pristine clouds of gas, not yet enriched with chemical elements heavier than helium, could collapse directly to form a black hole with a mass of a few hundred thousand solar masses, then accrete matter to evolve.” to the hyper-massive black holes observed in later epochs,” Maiolino added. But it’s also possible that core star clusters near the centers of baby galaxies have generated medium-mass black holes.
This could have happened through the process of stellar collisions, or the merging of two stellar black holes. In the latter case, the excess mass observed as of today would be the result of continued accretion of surrounding matter.
†Webb is about to open an entirely new exploration space in this area. It’s possible that the first seeds of a black hole originally formed in the ‘baby universe,’ within just a few million years after the Big Bang,” Maiolino said. For him, Webb is the ideal ‘time machine’ for studying and analyzing primordial black holes – because its high sensitivity allows the detection of galaxies at unknown distances† Most unbelievably, since the speed of light is finite, we’ll be staring at these galaxies — and every primal black holes in and around them – as they were in the unscrupulous distant past. All thanks to Webb, once the science missions get underway.
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