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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Infant black hole discovery

UA astronomers have discovered what appear to be the two most primitive supermassive black holes in the early universe.

The black holes, uncovered with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, could help scientists understand how black holes form and evolve and how the process relates to the evolution of galaxies and the universe.

“”Black holes are one of the most fascinating predictions of Einstein’s theory of general relativity,”” said Xiaohui Fan, a professor of astronomy at the Steward Observatory. “”They are so massive and dense that light can’t escape. These objects provide us important tools to understand the laws of gravity and to probe the evolution of galaxies and evolution of the universe in general.””

Linhua Jiang, a postdoctoral astronomy student and research associate at the Steward Observatory, worked with Fan on the research.

“”Fan and I led the project,”” Jiang said. “”We’re the same team.””

The most widely accepted explanation for the formation of supermassive black holes is slow and steady growth of a normal, stellar-sized black hole. It’s believed that most galaxies, including the Milky Way, contain supermassive black holes at their center.

The black holes were discovered using data taken as a part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey project, an ongoing study based in New Mexico dedicated to taking images in order to construct more complete models of the universe. The black holes were then probed with the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope in order to gain a greater understanding of their structure.

“”The discovery is really part of the larger effort to study the evolution of the universe, especially when and how the very first stars, galaxies and black holes appeared in the universe after the big bang,”” Fan said. “”Our universe (formed) 13.7 billion years ago, and these black holes we observed were about 13 billion years back. So we are looking literally at a baby picture of the universe, when the universe was about 15 times younger and seven times smaller.””

Fan went on to say that the discovery might lead to more illuminating discoveries about the early stages of the universe.

“”To probe that far away, and that far back, and to understand how we, our galaxy, our solar system and our planet, came from is truly exciting,”” Fan said.

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