“We believe we have just seen the tip of the iceberg, and that the few galaxies discovered so far around this supermassive black hole are only the brightest ones,” said Barbara Balmaverde, at The National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) in Torino, Italy about the discovery by astronomers using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) of six galaxies in a cosmic “spider’s web” of gas extending to over 300 times the size of the Milky Way around a supermassive black hole –those “strange galactic monsters, for whom creation is destruction, death life, chaos order”–at the dawn of time when the universe was only 0.9 billion years old.
“The Incubator” –Massive Dark-Matter Haloes
“The cosmic web filaments are like spider’s web threads,” explains Marco Mignoli, an astronomer at INAF, about the phenomenon, supporting the theory that black holes can grow rapidly within large, web-like structures which contain plenty of gas to fuel them. “The galaxies stand and grow where the filaments cross, and streams of gas—available to fuel both the galaxies and the central supermassive black hole—can flow along the filaments.”
Mignoli was the lead author of a paper published in Astronomy & Astrophysics summarizing a decade-long observation campaign of the black hole, which powers a quasar known as SDSS J1030+0524, that included the Hubble Space Telescope, the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, the Keck II Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii and the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham in Arizona.
“Our finding lends support to the idea that the most distant and massive black holes form and grow within massive dark matter halos in large-scale structures, and that the absence of earlier detections of such structures was likely due to observational limitations,” says Colin Norman of Johns Hopkins University a co-author on the study, about the large regions of invisible matter thought to attract huge amounts of gas in the early universe, forming the web-like structures where galaxies and black holes can evolve.
“No Good Explanation for their Existence”
“This research was mainly driven by the desire to understand some of the most challenging astronomical objects—supermassive black holes in the early Universe. These are extreme systems and to date we have had no good explanation for their existence,” said Mignoli.
“Our work has placed an important piece in the largely incomplete puzzle that is the formation and growth of such extreme, yet relatively abundant, objects so quickly after the Big Bang,” says co-author Roberto Gilli, also an astronomer at INAF in Bologna.
The new-found structure offers a likely explanation about how sufficiently large amounts of “black hole fuel” could have been available to enable these objects to grow to such enormous sizes in such a short time.: the “spider’s web” and the galaxies within it contain enough gas to provide the fuel that the central black hole needs to quickly become a supermassive giant.
The galaxies now detected are some of the faintest that current telescopes can observe. This discovery required observations over several hours using the largest optical telescopes available, including ESO’s VLT. Using the MUSE and FORS2 instruments on the VLT at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in the Chilean Atacama Desert, the team confirmed the link between four of the six galaxies and the black hole.
Source: M. Mignoli et al. Web of the giant: Spectroscopic confirmation of a large-scale structure around the z=6.31 quasar SDSS J1030+0524, Astronomy & Astrophysics (2020). DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/202039045
The Daily Galaxy, Max Goldberg, via ESO
Image credit: ESO