Webb #4

Since their discovery, black holes have been the source of our curiosity and fear.  These monstrosities form after the collapse of a massive star.  In this process, large amounts of matter are compressed into a tiny space, generating a gravitational field so strong that even light cannot escape.  These behemoths can grow absolutely huge — up to billions of times the mass of our sun.  But there’s a problem; some black holes have gotten too big too quickly.

The James Webb Space Telescope recently picked up on one of these cases, specifically the oldest black hole astronomers have seen.  With its powerful imaging technology, the telescope discovered the celestial object in a small galaxy that existed only 570 million years after the Big Bang.  With a mass 10 million times that of our sun, the black hole is quite large for how early it existed.  But astronomers say there should be more of these cases out there.  Rebecca Larson, the lead author of the study stated, “This is the first one that we’re finding at this redshift, but there should be many of them.”  Yet, despite their expected presence, astronomers are still baffled by how they managed to form so soon after the Big Bang.

One hypothesis to explain this black hole, in particular, is that it arose from the spontaneous collapse of extremely dense gas early on in the universe.  Larson stated that this scenario would require more initial matter in the galaxy, and deemed it the less likely case.  Alternatively, this black hole was the remnant of a hypothesized object known as a “Population III” star.  This early celestial body would have been an extremely massive star formed from only hydrogen and helium.  The black hole following its collapse would have then swallowed large amounts of material to grow to the size the JWST observed.

Both of these proposals are just theories, but they have astronomers excited about what future studies on this topic could bring to the table.