Webb Discovers Record-breaking Black Hole Mergers in Ancient Universe - Latest Global News

Webb Discovers Record-breaking Black Hole Mergers in Ancient Universe

The state-of-the-art Webb Space Telescope has discovered the most distant black hole merger ever, which occurred when the universe was just 740 million years old. It’s the first time astronomers have observed a merger so early in the universe’s history, making it a record breaker.

Black holes are massive objects distributed throughout our universe. Their gravitational fields are so strong that not even light can escape their event horizons. Black hole mergers are exactly what they sound like: slow, terrifying dances between two objects, often at the centers of their respective galaxies, that eventually merge into a single object.

The most recent merger observation was made by a team of astronomers in May 2023 using the Webb Telescope’s NIRSpec-IFU instrument. The cosmic coincidence of holes occurred when the universe was about three-quarters of a billion years old (for comparison, the universe is now 13 billion years older!), in a galaxy system called ZS7.

The merger was discovered thanks to spectrographic features of accreting black holes – those that are actively absorbing material – that are not visible to ground-based telescopes. Luckily, Webb is in L2, a region of space 1 million miles from Earth, from where he can look even deeper into the universe.

“Our results suggest that mergers are an important pathway through which black holes can grow rapidly, even in the cosmic dawn,” said Hannah Übler, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge and lead author of the study, in an ESA statement release. “Together with other Webb findings about active, massive black holes in the distant universe, our results also show that massive black holes have shaped the evolution of galaxies from the beginning.”

Webb’s vision is so sharp that the team was able to spatially separate the two black holes, revealing some of their physical properties. One of the holes is about 50 million times the mass of the Sun, while the other is obscured by a dense cloud of gas. The team’s full paper on the discovery was published today in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

When black holes merge, they merge Emit gravitational shock waves that compress and expand spacetime across billions of light years. These waves are detected by observatories such as those managed by the LIGO-Virgo-KAGRA collaboration, which includes Gravitational waves were discovered for the first time in 2015.

However, a brighter future is emerging for understanding the gravitational universe. ESA officially adopted the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), a space-based gravitational wave observatory, in January, paving the way for eventual launch and operation of the spacecraft.

“Webb’s results show us that lighter systems that can be detected by LISA should be far more common than previously thought,” said Nora Luetzgendorf, LISA senior project scientist at the European Space Agency, in the same press release. “It will most likely require us to adapt our models to LISA rates in this mass range. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Overall, the next generation of space telescopes is revealing the earliest black holes, but also their abundance in the universe. Unraveling the mysteries of black holes—how they grow, interact with, and shape their surrounding regions—will help astrophysicists understand some of the universe’s most fundamental mysteries.

More: 9 Things You Didn’t Know About Black Holes

Sharing Is Caring:

Leave a Comment