Astronomers discover the most distant galaxy yet

Earliest cosmic monster

Alternatively, a supermassive black hole might explain the galaxy’s ultraviolet brightness. If that’s the case, the supermassive black hole would become the earliest known, breaking the previous record by some 500 million years.

Supermassive black holes are believed to reside in the hearts of most galaxies, but understanding how these monsters grew so big so quickly in the early universe remains a conundrum for scientists. Physics tells us that black holes need time to gobble up enough material to grow to supermassive proportions, meaning that scientists didn’t expect to see them so early in the cosmic timeline.

But in 2017, astronomers began finding these monsters within the universe’s earliest galaxies. Disks of material surrounded the black holes, and the infalling matter shone so brightly the galaxies, despite their extreme distances, can still be seen today.

It is the high-energy photons from that infalling material, which gets violently swirled around the black hole, that might be causing HD1’s ultraviolet brightness.

“Forming a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, a black hole in HD1 must have grown out of a massive seed at an unprecedented rate,” explains MNRAS co-author Avi Loeb. Such an early black hole may not answer the question of how these objects grew so big so quickly, but it would narrow down how soon they appeared in the early universe.


JWST up to beat

To make this distant discovery, the team spent more than 1,200 hours observing with the Subaru Telescope, VISTA Telescope, UK Infrared Telescope, and Spitzer Space Telescope. To verify HD1’s distance, the team plans to observe the galaxy again, this time with NASA’s powerful James Webb Space Telescope.

Capable of peering back to the first luminous glows that emerged after the Big Bang, JWST will also be able to settle which theory explains HD1’s ultraviolet shine. And, perhaps, find even more distant galaxies in the earliest moments of the cosmos.

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