Astronomers Discover Most Distant Black Hole Ever Seen in X-rays

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/Ákos Bogdán; Infrared: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI; Image Processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/L. Frattare & K. Arcand

Astronomers have made a significant discovery by identifying the most distant black hole ever observed in X-rays. This black hole is in an early stage of growth, with a mass similar to that of its host galaxy, providing insights into how some of the first supermassive black holes in the universe formed. The discovery was made by combining data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the James Webb Space Telescope, with the help of gravitational lensing.

The black hole was found in a galaxy called UHZ1, located in the galaxy cluster Abell 2744, 3.5 billion light-years from Earth. However, the Webb telescope revealed that the galaxy is much more distant, at 13.2 billion light-years away, when the universe was only 3% of its current age.

Intense X-ray emissions from superheated gas around the black hole were detected through observations with Chandra, aided by gravitational lensing, which magnified the signals. This discovery is crucial for understanding the rapid growth of supermassive black holes shortly after the Big Bang and whether they formed directly from massive gas clouds or resulted from the explosions of early stars.

The newly discovered black hole is estimated to have a mass between 10 and 100 million times that of the Sun, which is similar to the mass of all the stars in its host galaxy. This suggests that this black hole formed directly from the collapse of a massive gas cloud, supporting theoretical predictions made in 2017.

The findings from this discovery, along with other data from Webb and other telescopes, will contribute to a better understanding of the early universe. Webb’s observations were motivated by the fact that light from distant galaxies is highly magnified by matter in intervening galaxy clusters, as previously shown by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The research was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The James Webb Space Telescope is a cutting-edge space observatory aimed at unraveling mysteries in our solar system, exploring distant worlds around other stars, and investigating the origins of our universe. It is an international program led by NASA in partnership with the ESA and the Canadian Space Agency.