An illustration shows vast clouds of hydrogen gas surrounding a early quasar, providing a source of raw material for the supermassive black hole at its core. Image: ESO/Farina et al.; ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Decarli et al.
One of the many questions about the formation and evolution of supermassive black holes in the early universe is where did they find the raw material to fuel their enormous growth?
While most, if not all, large galaxies feature such gargantuan black holes in their cores, earlier studies suggested little left-over gas and dust – the presumed “food” needed for a supermassive black hole to develop – after a galaxy’s initial burst of star formation.
But astronomers using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope and the sensitive Multi Unit Spectroscope Explorer, or MUSE, instrument may have found an answer.
In a detailed survey of 31 quasars that were already shining some 12.5 billion years ago – less than 900 million years after the Big Bang – the team was able to detect enormous reservoirs of cool, dense hydrogen gas within 100,000 light years of the cores of a dozen sampled quasars.
The video below, provided by the European Southern Observatory (ESO/M. Kornmesser), shows a ...