The universe is also a black hole

Black hole in the network

Astronomers found a supermassive black hole in the early Universe that is surrounded by a web-like structure of gas. This observation could explain how black holes were able to grow comparatively quickly to several billion solar masses after the Big Bang: gas flows along the cosmic web ensure a constant supply of matter, according to the international research team in the journal "Astronomy & Astrophysics".

The light from the black hole that has now been observed takes 12.9 billion years to reach Earth - the astronomers working with Roberto Gilli from the Bologna Observatory in Italy saw it as it looked 900 million years after the Big Bang. And already at that time, SDSS J1030 + 0524, the name of the object, apparently contained one billion solar masses. Through hours of recordings with the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory ESO, the researchers discovered six galaxies near the black hole, embedded in a network of extensive filaments of gas. They are among the faintest star systems that astronomers have ever found.

“We are probably only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” says Barbara Balmaverde from the Turin Observatory in Italy, who was also involved in the observations. “We only see the brightest galaxies around the black hole.” In fact, there could be many more faintly shining star systems near the black hole, each of which is located at the nodes of the cosmic gas network. The neighborhood of SDSS J1030 + 0524 that has now been discovered contains sufficient gas to allow the black hole to grow rapidly.

"Our observations provide important insights into the so far unsolved mystery of the origin and growth of these extreme, but nevertheless very common objects," explains Gilli. The first black holes were probably created by the collapse of the first generation of stars in the cosmos, almost 200 million years after the Big Bang. In a few hundred million years, they must have grown from star size to their enormous subsequent mass. With the ESO's Extremely Large Telescope, which is currently under construction and due to go into operation in 2025, the researchers hope to locate further objects in the vicinity of supermassive black holes in the young cosmos.