Scientists were able to catch a glimpse of the “baby back holes” when the universe was only 800 to 950 million years old,which is quite a feat considering the universe is now 13.8 billion years old.
Kevin Schawinski,co-author of the study and an astrophysicist at YaleUniversity, said that the “baby black holes” will grow to become massive black holes that exist today at the center of every galaxy.
Scientists pointed NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope at an area of space known as the Chandra Deep Field South for six weeks.
Because the area is so far away,it takes billions of years for light and X-rays to reach the satellites in Earth’s orbit. That means scientists are looking at the past.
The discovery represents a major leap in understanding the origins of black holes,and more importantly,the universe itself.
“This is a big step,not a baby step,in getting closer to understanding where the black holes formed,and when they were created and when they started,” said Ezequiel Treister,an astrophysicist at University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The existence of black holes early on is important because scientists believe that galaxies and black holes grow together. The discovery shows that,even during the very early beginnings of the universe,this theory of codependence holds true.
During the early years of the universe,space was filled with a sort of “cosmic fog” made of hydrogen left over from the Big Bang. Over hundreds of millions of years,scientists believed,stars and black holes released radiation that cleared this fog.
Data from Chandra,however,show that stars,not black holes,are most likely to have cleared the fog.
The discovery has also forced scientists to ask more questions about the how the universe grew into what we see today.
“This chicken and egg problem of what was there first,the galaxy or the back hole,has been pushed all the way to edge of the universe,” Schawinski said.
Although scientists don’t yet know the answer to what came first,they’re confident that Chandra,along with Hubble,will allow them to look even further back in time.
“If we spend a few years … we should be able to push it a few million years,” Treister said,“and that’s where things get really interesting.”
Reach reporter Kevin Heim at [email protected] or 202-326-9861
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