This remarkable image unveils the most distant black hole ever detected in X-rays, shedding light on the formation of some of the earliest supermassive black holes in the universe. The discovery is a result of a collaboration between NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the James Webb Space Telescope, with X-rays depicted in purple and infrared data in red, green, and blue.
Situated within the galaxy cluster Abell 2744, this extremely remote black hole can be found in the direction of the galaxy UHZ1, which lies about 3.5 billion light-years from Earth. However, Webb data revealed that UHZ1 is even farther away, at approximately 13.2 billion light-years. This places the observation of UHZ1 at a time when the universe was just 3% of its current age.
Researchers used more than two weeks of observations from Chandra to detect X-ray emissions from UHZ1, a key indicator of a growing supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s center. The faint X-ray signal was detectable only due to gravitational lensing, which amplified the signal fourfold.
In the image, purple represents X-rays from the vast amounts of hot gas in Abell 2744, while the infrared image showcases hundreds of galaxies within the cluster. The insets provide a close-up view of UHZ1, with the small object in the Webb image being the distant galaxy containing the supermassive black hole emitting X-rays.The unique size of the X-ray source in relation to the infrared view of the galaxy is due to the limitations of Chandra’s resolution. The X-rays originate from a region much smaller than the galaxy itself.
The origin of this black hole, with an estimated mass ranging from 10 to 100 million solar masses, at such an early age is a pivotal question. This discovery aligns with a 2017 theoretical prediction of an “Outsize Black Hole” formed directly from the collapse of a massive gas cloud. The large mass of this black hole, in contrast to nearby galaxies with black holes only accounting for a small fraction of their total mass, supports this theory.
As researchers continue to gather data from the James Webb Space Telescope and other observatories, they aim to piece together a more comprehensive picture of the early universe and the mechanisms behind the birth of these supermassive black holes. The results of this study are published in Nature Astronomy, providing valuable insights into the mysteries of the cosmos.