Update 78, JWST Observes First Ancient Quasar Starlight

Introduction:

Astronomers using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) have made a groundbreaking discovery, capturing starlight from two early galaxies hosting feeding supermassive black holes, known as quasars. This observation provides valuable insights into how these black holes rapidly grow to enormous masses, equivalent to millions or billions of suns, and how they coevolve with their host galaxies.

Exploring Early Quasars and Their Host Galaxies:

About 25 years ago, astronomers could observe host galaxies from about 3 billion years back using large ground-based telescopes. The Hubble Space Telescope allowed them to explore the peak epoch of black hole growth approximately 10 billion years ago. Now, with the JWST, scientists have the capability to observe the galaxies in which the first supermassive black holes emerged.

The Mass Relationship: Supermassive Black Holes and Galaxies: Understanding how supermassive black holes grow alongside their galaxies has been a fascinating area of research. Quasars, powered by supermassive black holes surrounded by gas and dust, emit tremendous amounts of light, outshining all the stars in their host galaxies combined. The relationship between the masses of galaxies and their central black holes has been observed in galaxies with black holes of varying masses, indicating a possible connection between their growth.

Insights into Early Universe Galaxies:

One explanation for this connection is that both galaxies and their supermassive black holes grow through a series of mergers with other galaxies. These mergers lead to violent collisions between black holes, creating larger ones, and affecting the overall mass of the galaxy and its central black hole. Another suggestion is that the radiation emitted by a quasar regulates the availability of material for both powering the quasar and forming new stars. Consequently, when the quasar stops growing, star formation in the galaxy also slows down.

JWST’s Role in Advancing Astrophysical Research:

However, until now, astronomers could not determine if this relationship existed for galaxies and their supermassive black holes in the very early universe due to the challenges of observing dim starlight from quasar-hosting galaxies. Ground-based telescopes struggled to distinguish the light from quasars and stars because of the Earth’s atmosphere. The Hubble Space Telescope managed to observe such galaxies at distances of around 10 billion light-years, but observing even earlier galaxies required the powerful JWST.

With JWST’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), astronomers observed the quasars J2236+0032 and J2255+0251 for 2 hours at two different wavelengths. By separating the quasar light from starlight in the galaxies, they succeeded in observing the light from early stars for the first time. The data confirmed that the supermassive black hole/galaxy mass relationship holds true even in the early universe, though it is not yet clear how this relationship originates or how supermassive black holes grow to such immense sizes.

Conclusion:

This discovery represents just a part of JWST’s observations of distant quasars, as the telescope is currently studying ten more of these objects and their galaxies. Additionally, an additional 11 hours of observation time has been allocated to this specific study of the early universe. The unprecedented capabilities of JWST have provided astronomers with a remarkable opportunity to explore the distant universe and shed light on the fascinating interplay between galaxies and supermassive black holes during the universe’s infancy. The findings are expected to pave the way for further investigations into understanding the origins of the supermassive black hole/galaxy mass relationship and the processes governing the growth of these cosmic behemoths.


Some More Updates:

  • Virgin Galactic launched its 1st commercial spaceflight on June 29
  • The ‘dark universe’ Euclid spacecraft from Europe is successfully launched via SpaceX on July 1.