Earliest supermassive black hole revealed by James Webb data

The discovery was confirmed by data from the James Webb Space Telescope.
Loukia Papadopoulos
An illustration of a black hole.
An illustration of a black hole.


Using observations collected through the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scientists have detected an active supermassive black, estimated to have been created 570 million years after the Big Bang. 

This is the earliest growing supermassive black hole detected yet, according to a report by ScienceAlert published on Friday.

It lies in a galaxy previously known as EGSY8p7, though since renamed CEERS_1019, that is also the earliest of its kind ever spotted by scientists.

"We found the most distant active galactic nucleus (AGN) and the most distant, earliest black hole we've ever found," Larson told ScienceAlert.

First identified in Hubble data in 2015, the galaxy was confirmed by subsequent observations, although details on its content and nature remained unavailable.

That’s when JWST stepped in. With just one hour of observing CEERS_1019, the telescope returned with rich data.

"In the moment I was kind of like, wow look at everything we can see with JWST, we've seen this whole portion of the spectrum of this galaxy – and any galaxies early on in the Universe – we've never seen before," Larson told ScienceAlert. "I was just overwhelmed by the amount of information."

A surprising discovery

But then, the scientist stumbled on a surprising discovery. In the galaxy was clearly delineated light from an AGN and light from a star formation. To see both in the same area was something that had never been witnessed before.

"I was just as surprised as everyone," Larson says. "We had this whole argument for weeks as to which one it should be; it should be one or the other. And it turns out it is both. There is some impact that the black hole is having on the emission lines that we're seeing, but most of the light we see in our images is still dominated by the star-forming part of the galaxy."

Now, Larson says that although CEERS_1019 is currently the earliest known galaxy, more such celestial objects are bound to be discovered sooner rather than later. Their analysis will be able to provide key information on how our galaxy came to be. 

"I don't think my record will stand for long," Larson told ScienceAlert. "And I hope it doesn't because I think that that's more exciting, that we're starting to answer these questions."

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