James Webb Telescope Discovers Most Ancient Supermassive Black Hole

Captivating Graphic Unveils Farthest Active Supermassive Black Holes in the Universe, Discovered by a Collaborative Effort of Space and Ground Telescopes. Three Remarkable Finds from the James Webb Space Telescope’s CEERS Survey. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, Leah Hustak (STScI)

This captivating graphic highlights the redshift of an active supermassive black hole. In the top right corner, a complete NIRCam image of the field is displayed, characterized by its small size and an uneven white outline. Adjacent to it, a magnified section labeled "NIRCam imaging" showcases a diverse array of galaxies in various colors, shapes, and sizes across the majority of the top row. Within the inset image, a larger blurry red dot is surrounded by two green dots positioned on its left and right sides. The bottom row of the graphic presents white data accompanied by a yellow model indicating faster gas surrounding the black hole, while a purple line represents a second model denoting slower gas within the galaxy. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Leah Hustak (STScI), S. Finkelstein (UT Austin), R. Larson (UT Austin), P. Arrabal Haro (NSF's NOIRLab)

July 06, 2023 - The James Webb Space Telescope has made a groundbreaking discovery, identifying the most distant active supermassive black hole known to date. This black hole, situated within galaxy CEERS 1019, existed a mere 570 million years after the Big Bang. Read on to explore the findings and delve into the remarkable capabilities of the Webb telescope.

The James Webb Space Telescope, humanity's next-generation space observatory, has once again astounded scientists and astronomers with a groundbreaking discovery. In its Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science (CEERS) Survey, the Webb telescope team has successfully identified the most distant active supermassive black hole ever recorded. Situated within the galaxy CEERS 1019, this remarkable black hole emerged just over 570 million years after the cataclysmic event known as the Big Bang. Astonishingly, it possesses a mass equivalent to a mere 9 million times that of our Sun.

To put this finding into perspective, the supermassive black hole residing at the core of our own Milky Way galaxy is a staggering 4.6 million times the mass of the Sun. Furthermore, the previously known distant supermassive black holes, discovered over the course of several decades, weigh over a billion times the mass of our Sun. However, it is important to note that CEERS 1019's record may only hold for a brief period, as claims regarding even more distant black holes identified by the Webb telescope are presently under careful scrutiny by the astronomical community.

Despite its relatively modest mass, CEERS 1019's appetite is insatiable. Scientists have observed that it consumes gas, dust, and stars at the highest theoretically possible rate given its size. The James Webb Space Telescope's highly detailed spectra, particularly the NIRSpec MSA emission spectrum, vividly reflect the black hole's unyielding focus on devouring its cosmic "meal."

Analyzing the data, astronomers can identify hydrogen in the spectrum by locating a prominent white peak just beyond 4.7 microns. The Webb telescope's data has been fitted to two models, as multiple sources contribute to the shape of the data. The lower yellow model represents faster gas swirling within the black hole's active accretion disk, while the higher purple model corresponds to slower gas in the galaxy, originating from actively forming stars.

Although not displayed on the chart, the width of the oxygen detections reveals that the stars in the surrounding galaxy possess typical velocities for a massive galaxy. Additionally, the team has confirmed the presence of hydrogen, previously detected by researchers employing the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, as well as the W. M. Keck Observatory. Thanks to the extraordinary clarity of the Webb telescope's data, scientists were able to affirm the existence of the black hole and ascertain its substantial light emissions, along with the rapid motion of gas around it.

This remarkable discovery not only provides significant insights into the early universe but also raises anticipation for additional forthcoming revelations. "Detecting smaller active supermassive black holes at such early stages in the universe might become more common than anticipated with this telescope," stated Rebecca Larson of the University of Texas at Austin, who spearheaded this remarkable breakthrough.

The NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) aboard the Webb telescope, equipped with its microshutter array, generated the highly detailed spectra instrumental in uncovering this awe-inspiring revelation. Developed for the European Space Agency (ESA) by a consortium of leading European companies led by Airbus Defence and Space (ADS), with crucial contributions from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center for its detector and micro-shutter subsystems, the NIRSpec stands as a testament to international collaboration andcutting-edge technological advancements.

As the James Webb Space Telescope continues its mission to unveil the mysteries of the cosmos, this recent discovery of an active supermassive black hole in the early universe marks a significant milestone. The findings not only deepen our understanding of the universe's evolution but also emphasize the power of advanced technologies and collaborative efforts in unraveling the secrets of the cosmos. With the anticipation of more astonishing revelations on the horizon, the James Webb Space Telescope stands poised to revolutionize our knowledge of the universe and propel humanity's exploration of the final frontier.

Source - NASA and ESA