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NASA’s Chandra Finds Massive Black Holes Common in Early Universe

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This is an artist's impression of a growing supermassive black hole located in the early Universe, showing a disk of gas rotating around the central object that generates copious amounts of radiation. This gas is destined to be consumed by the black hole. The black hole's mass is less than one hundredth of the mass it will have when the Universe reaches its present day age of about 13.7 billion years.

Using the deepest X-ray image ever taken, astronomers found the first direct evidence that massive black holes were common in the early universe. This discovery from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory shows that very young black holes grew more aggressively than previously thought, in tandem with the growth of their host galaxies.
By pointing Chandra at a patch of sky for more than six weeks, astronomers obtained what is known as the Chandra Deep Field South (CDFS). When combined with very deep optical and infrared images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the new Chandra data allowed astronomers to search for black holes in 200 distant galaxies, from when the universe was between about 800 million to 950 million years old…
“Until now, we had no idea what the black holes in these early galaxies were doing, or if they even existed,” said Ezequiel Treister of the University of Hawaii, lead author of the study appearing in the June 16 issue of the journal Nature. “Now we know they are there, and they are growing like gangbusters.”
The super-sized growth means that the black holes in the CDFS are less extreme versions of quasars — very luminous, rare objects powered by material falling onto supermassive black holes. However, the sources in the CDFS are about a hundred times fainter and the black holes are about a thousand times less massive than the ones in quasars.
The observations found that between 30 and 100 percent of the distant galaxies contain growing supermassive black holes. Extrapolating these results from the small observed field to the full sky, there are at least 30 million supermassive black holes in the early universe. This is a factor of 10,000 larger than the estimated number of quasars in the early universe.

This artist's impression shows a very young galaxy located in the early Universe less than one billion years after the Big Bang. The distorted appearance of the galaxy is caused by the large number of mergers occurring at this early epoch, and the blue regions mark where star formation is occurring at a high rate. The core of the galaxy is embedded within heavy veils of dust and gas. A cut-out from the core shows that this dust and gas is hiding very bright radiation from the very center of the galaxy, produced by a rapidly growing supermassive black hole.

“It appears we’ve found a whole new population of baby black holes,” said co-author Kevin Schawinski of Yale University. “We think these babies will grow by a factor of about a hundred or a thousand, eventually becoming like the giant black holes we see today almost 13 billion years later.”
A population of young black holes in the early universe had been predicted, but not yet observed. Detailed calculations show that the total amount of black hole growth observed by this team is about a hundred times higher than recent estimates.
Because these black holes are nearly all enshrouded in thick clouds of gas and dust, optical telescopes frequently cannot detect them. However, the high energies of X-ray light can penetrate these veils, allowing the black holes inside to be studied.
Physicists studying black holes want to know more how the first supermassive black holes were formed and how they grow. Although evidence for parallel growth of black holes and galaxies has been established at closer distances, the new Chandra results show that this connection starts earlier than previously thought, perhaps right from the origin of both.
“Most astronomers think in the present-day universe, black holes and galaxies are somehow symbiotic in how they grow,” said Priya Natarajan, a co-author from Yale University. “We have shown that this codependent relationship has existed from very early times.”
It has been suggested that early black holes would play an important role in clearing away the cosmic “fog” of neutral, or uncharged, hydrogen that pervaded the early universe when temperatures cooled down after the Big Bang. However, the Chandra study shows that blankets of dust and gas stop ultraviolet radiation generated by the black holes from traveling outwards to perform this “reionization.” Therefore, stars and not growing black holes are likely to have cleared this fog at cosmic dawn.
Chandra is capable of detecting extremely faint objects at vast distances, but these black holes are so obscured that relatively few photons can escape and hence they could not be individually detected. Instead, the team used a technique that relied on Chandra’s ability to accurately determine the direction from which the X-rays came to add up all the X-ray counts near the positions of distant galaxies and find a statistically significant signal.

This composite image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope (HST) combines the deepest X-ray, optical and infrared views of the sky. Using these images, astronomers have obtained the first direct evidence that black holes are common in the early Universe and shown that very young black holes grew more aggressively than previously thought. Astronomers obtained what is known as the Chandra Deep Field South (CDFS) by pointing the telescope at the same patch of sky for over six weeks of time. The composite image shows a small section of the CDFS, where the Chandra sources are blue, the optical HST data are shown in green and blue, and the infrared data from Hubble are in red and green. The new Chandra data allowed astronomers to search for black holes in 200 distant galaxies, from when the Universe was between about 800 million and 950 million years old. These distant galaxies were detected using the HST data and the positions of a subset of them are marked with the yellow circles (roll your mouse over the image above). The rest of the 200 galaxies were found in other deep HST observations located either elsewhere in the CDFS or the Chandra Deep Field North, a second ultra- deep Chandra field in a different part of the sky. None of the galaxies was individually detected with Chandra, so the team used a technique that relied on Chandra's ability to very accurately determine the direction from which the X-rays came to add up all the X-ray counts near the positions of these distant galaxies. The two "stacked" images resulting from this analysis are on the right side of the graphic, where the bottom image shows the low-energy X- rays and the top image has the high-energy X-rays. Statistically significant signals are found in both images. These results imply that between 30% and 100% of the distant galaxies contain growing supermassive black holes. Extrapolating these results from the relatively small field of view that was observed to the full sky, there are at least 30 million supermassive black holes in the early Universe. This is a factor of 10,000 larger than the estimated number of quasars in the early Universe. The stronger signal in high-energy X-rays implies that the black holes are nearly all enshrouded in thick clouds of gas and dust. Although copious amounts of optical light are generated by material falling onto the black holes, this light is blocked within the core of the black hole's host galaxy and is undetectable by optical telescopes. However, the high energies of X-ray light can penetrate these veils, allowing the black holes inside to be studied.

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/news/H-11-183.html – http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/multimedia/young_galaxy.html

Written by physicsgg

June 15, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Posted in ASTRONOMY, COSMOLOGY

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