Discovery of Earliest Known Black Holes

Astronomers have discovered what appear to be two of the earliest and most primitive supermassive black holes known. The discovery, based on observations with the NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and other space observatories, was published in the 18 March 2010 edition of the scientific journal Nature.

Black holes are beastly distortions of space and time. The most massive and active ones lurk at the cores of galaxies, and are usually surrounded by doughnut-shaped structures of dust and gas that feed and sustain the growing black holes. These hungry supermassive black holes are called quasars.

The very early universe didn’t have any dust so the most primitive quasars also should be dust free. But nobody had seen such pristine quasars – until now, when the Spitzer telescope spied two of them about 13 billion light-years away. The findings will help astronomers understand the roots of our universe, and how the very first black holes, galaxies, and stars all came to be.

“The main goal of this collaboration is to determine if these very first quasars – which are very distant from Earth in space and time – are feeding and growing in the same way as do quasars that are closer to Earth,” said Niel Brandt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics. More….