June 25, 2022

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Webb House Telescope’s Quest for Primeval Black Holes

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Artist’s idea of the James Webb House Telescope. Symbol Credit score & Copyright: NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutiérrez

The Webb House Telescope crew continues to paintings at the commissioning of medical tools, the ultimate step ahead of the beginning of science actions in the summertime. We lately noticed a impressive symbol of the black hollow on the heart of our Milky Approach galaxy taken via the Match Horizon Telescope. One of the most mysteries of recent astronomy is how each and every massive galaxy has a large central black hollow, and why a few of these black holes are strangely massive even within the earliest sessions of the universe. We requested Roberto Maiolino, a member of Webb’s Close to Infrared Spectrometer (NIRSpec) Science Staff, to let us know how Webb can lend a hand resolution a few of these questions.

“Probably the most thrilling spaces of discovery that Webb is set to find is the seek for primordial black holes within the early universe. Those are the seeds of a lot more large black holes that astronomers have discovered within the cores of galaxies. Maximum (most definitely all) galaxies comprise black holes at their facilities with lots starting from thousands and thousands to billions of the hundreds of our Solar. Those supermassive black holes have turn into so massive each via soaking up the topic round them and via merging smaller black holes.

“An intriguing fresh discovery was once the invention of multi-billion sun mass hypermassive black holes that already existed when the universe was once best about 700 million years outdated, a fragment of its present age of 13.8 billion years. It is a puzzling consequence, since such early epochs aren’t sufficient time to develop such supermassive black holes, consistent with usual theories. A number of situations had been proposed to resolve this puzzle.

“One chance is that the black holes on account of the loss of life of the first actual technology of stars within the early universe accreted subject matter at an exceptionally prime charge. Any other situation is that primordial, intact gasoline clouds, now not but enriched in chemical parts heavier than helium, may just without delay cave in, forming[{” attribute=””>black hole with a mass of a few hundred thousand solar masses, and subsequently accrete matter to evolve into the hyper-massive black holes observed at later epochs. Finally, dense, nuclear star clusters at the centers of baby galaxies may have produced intermediate mass black hole seeds, via stellar collisions or merging of stellar-mass black holes, and then become much more massive via accretion.

Populations of Known Black Holes in Early Universe

This illustration shows the populations of known black holes (large black dots) and the candidate black hole progenitors in the early universe (shaded regions). Credit: Roberto Maiolino, University of Cambridge

“Webb is about to open a completely new discovery space in this area. It is possible that the first black hole seeds originally formed in the ‘baby universe,’ within just a few million years after the big bang. Webb is the perfect ‘time machine’ to learn about these primeval objects. Its exceptional sensitivity makes Webb capable of detecting extremely distant galaxies, and because of the time required for the light emitted by the galaxies to travel to us, we will see them as they were in the remote past.

“Webb’s NIRSpec instrument is particularly well suited to identify primeval black hole seeds. My colleagues in the NIRSpec Instrument Science Team and I will be searching for their signatures during ‘active’ phases, when they are voraciously gobbling matter and growing rapidly. In these phases the material surrounding them becomes extremely hot and luminous and ionizes the atoms in their surroundings and in their host galaxies.

“NIRSpec will disperse the light from these systems into spectra, or ‘rainbows.’ The rainbow of active black hole seeds will be characterised by specific ‘fingerprints,’ features of highly ionized atoms. NIRSpec will also measure the velocity of the gas orbiting in the vicinity of these primeval black holes. Smaller black holes will be characterized by lower orbital velocities. Black hole seeds formed in pristine clouds will be identified by the absence of features associated with any element heavier than helium.

“I look forward to using Webb’s unprecedented capabilities to search for these black hole progenitors, with the ultimate goal of understanding their nature and origin. The early universe and the realm of black holes seeds is a completely uncharted territory that my colleagues and I are very excited to explore with Webb.”

Roberto Maiolino, professor of experimental astrophysics and director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology, University of Cambridge

Written by:

  • Jonathan Gardner, Webb deputy senior project scientist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Stefanie Milam, Webb deputy project scientist for planetary science, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

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