Home Science & Technology Astronomers have discovered the predecessor of a supermassive black hole – may...

Astronomers have discovered the predecessor of a supermassive black hole – may be an evolutionary “missing link”


This is an illustration of the artist of a supermassive black hole located inside the dust-covered core of a galaxy that vigorously forms stars with a “starfall”. Eventually it will become an extremely bright quasar as soon as the dust disappears. The research team believes that the object discovered during the Hubble study may be an evolutionary “missing link” between quasars and galaxies with star bursts. The dusty black hole dates back only 750 million years after the Big Bang. Author: NASA, ESA, N. Bartman

An international team of astronomers has discovered a unique object in the distant, early universe, which is the most important link between star-forming galaxies and the emergence of the earliest supermassive black holes. It was found using archival data from[{” attribute=””>NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and other space- and ground-based observatories. This object is the first of its kind to be discovered so early in the Universe’s history and had been lurking unnoticed in one of the best-studied areas of the night sky.

Ever since these objects were discovered at distances corresponding to a time only 750 million years after the Big Bang,[1] astronomers have struggled to understand the emergence of supermassive black holes in the early universe. Rapidly growing black holes in dusty, early star-forming galaxies predicted by theories and computer simulations, but so far they have not been observed. Now, however, astronomers have reported the discovery of an object – which they named GNz7q – which is considered to be the first such a fast-growing[{” attribute=””>black hole to be found in the early Universe. Archival Hubble data from the Advanced Camera for Surveys helped the team study the compact ultraviolet emission from the black hole’s accretion disc and to determine that GNz7q existed just 750 million years after the Big Bang.

“Our analysis suggests that GNz7q is the first example of a rapidly growing black hole in the dusty core of a starburst galaxy in an era close to the earliest supermassive black hole known in the universe,” said Sadie Fujimato, an astronomer with Niels. The Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the lead author of the work describing this discovery. “The properties of the object in the entire electromagnetic spectrum are in excellent agreement with the predictions of theoretical modeling.”

GNz7q in the Hubble GOODS-North field

An international team of astronomers, using archival data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and other space and terrestrial observatories, has discovered a unique object in the distant universe that is the most important link between young star-forming galaxies and the earliest supermassive black holes. This object is the first of its kind, discovered when the universe was only 750 million years old. It was imperceptibly hidden in one of the most studied areas of the night sky. The object, called GNz7q, is a red dot in the center of the image of the Great Observatory Hubble Origins Deep Survey-North (GOODS-North). Credits: NASA, ESA, Garth Ellingworth (California to Santa Cruz), Pascal Osh (California to Santa Cruz, El), Richard Bowens (LEI), I. Labbe (LEI), Space Dawn Center / Niels Bohr Institute / Copenhagen University, Denmark

Modern theories predict that supermassive black holes begin their lives in dust-shrouded nuclei of galaxies that vigorously form stars with a “starburst” before emitting ambient gas and dust and becoming extremely bright. quasars. Although they are extremely rare, examples of both dusty galaxies with starbursts and luminous quasars have been found in the early universe. The team believes that GNz7q may be the “missing link” between these two classes of objects.

“GNz7q provides a direct link between these two rare populations and provides a new way to understand the rapid growth of supermassive black holes in the early days of the universe,” Fujimata continued. “Our discovery is a precursor to the supermassive black holes we see in later eras.”

Although other interpretations of the team data cannot be completely ruled out, the observed properties of GNz7q are strongly consistent with theoretical predictions. The host galaxy GNz7q forms stars at 1600 solar masses of stars per year[2] and GNz7q itself seems bright at ultraviolet waves but very weak at X-ray wavelengths. The team interpreted this – along with the brightness of the host galaxy at infrared wavelengths – to suggest that GNz7q has a fast-growing black hole that is still covered by the dusty core of its accretion disk at the center of the star-forming host galaxy.

Aside from the importance of GNz7q for understanding the origins of supermassive black holes, this discovery deserves attention for its location in the Hubble GOODS North field, one of the most carefully studied areas of the night sky.[3]

GNz7q at Hubble GOODS-North Field

GNz7q is shown here in the center of a cut from the Hubble GOODS-North field. Author: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth (University of California, Santa Cruz), P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz; Yale University), R. Bouwens and I. Labbé (University of Leiden), as well as a research group, S. Fujimoto et al. (Space Dawn Center [DAWN] and the University of Copenhagen)

“GNz7q is a unique discovery found right in the center of a famous, well-studied field of the sky, which shows that great discoveries can often be hidden right in front of you,” said Gabriel Brammer, another astronomer at the Niels Bohr Institute. University of Copenhagen and a member of the team behind this result. “It is unlikely that the detection of GNz7q in the relatively small GOODS-N survey area was simply ‘dumb luck’, and the prevalence of such sources may actually be much higher than previously thought.”

Finding the GNz7q, which is in plain sight, was only possible thanks to the unique detailed data set with multiwavelength available to GOODS-North. Without this wealth of data, GNz7q would be easy to overlook, as it lacks the distinctive features commonly used to identify quasars in the early universe. Now the team hopes to systematically search for similar objects through special high-resolution surveys and take advantage of NASA / ESA / CSA James Webb Space Telescope spectroscopic instruments to study objects such as GNz7q, in unprecedented detail.

“A complete description of these objects and a much more detailed study of their evolution and basic physics will be possible with[{” attribute=””>James Webb Space Telescope,” concluded Fujimoto. “Once in regular operation, Webb will have the power to decisively determine how common these rapidly growing black holes truly are.”


  1. While light travels imperceptibly quickly in day-to-day life, the vast distances in astronomy mean that as astronomers look at increasingly distant objects, they are also looking backward in time. For example, light from the Sun takes around 8.3 minutes to reach Earth, meaning that we view the Sun as it was 8.3 minutes ago. The most distant objects are the furthest back in time, meaning that astronomers studying very distant galaxies are able to study the earliest periods of the Universe.
  2. This does not mean that 1600 Sun-like stars are produced each year in GNz7q’s host galaxy, but rather that a variety of stars are formed each year with a total mass 1600 times that of the Sun.
  3. GOODS — the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey — is an astronomical survey that combines multi-wavelength observations from some of the most capable telescopes ever built, including Hubble, ESA’s Herschel and XMM-Newton space telescopes, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory, and powerful ground-based telescopes.

For more on this discovery:

Reference: “A dusty compact object bridging galaxies and quasars at cosmic dawn” by S. Fujimoto, G. B. Brammer, D. Watson, G. E. Magdis, V. Kokorev, T. R. Greve, S. Toft, F. Walter, R. Valiante, M. Ginolfi, R. Schneider, F. Valentino, L. Colina, M. Vestergaard, R. Marques-Chaves, J. P. U. Fynbo, M. Krips, C. L. Steinhardt, I. Cortzen, F. Rizzo and P. A. Oesch, 13 April 2022, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04454-1

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

These results have been published in Nature.

The international team of astronomers in this study consists of S. Fujimoto (Cosmic Dawn Center [DAWN] and the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark), GB Bramer (DAWN and the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark), D. Watson (DAWN and Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark), G. E. Magdis DTU-Space at the Technical University of Denmark and the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark), V. Kokorov (DAWN and the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark), TR Greve (DAWN and DTU-Space, Technical University of Denmark, Denmark) S. Toft (DAWN and Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark), F. Walter (DAWN, Denmark, Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Germany, and National Radio Astronomical Observatory, USA), R. Valiante (INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma) Rome, Italy), M. Ginolfi (Southern European Observatory, Garching, Germany), R. Schneider (INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma, Rome, Italy and the Department of Physics, University of Rome La Sapienza, Rome, Italy), F Valentino (DAWN an d Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen on, Denmark), L. Colin (DAWN, Copenhagen, Denmark and Centro de Astrobiologia (CAB, CSIC-INTA), Madrid, Spain), M. Westergaard (Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark and Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, USA ), R. Marquez-Chavez (Geneva Observatory, University of Geneva, Switzerland), JPU Fynbo (DAWN and Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark), M. Cripps (IRAM, Domaine Universitaire, Saint-Martin-d’Hères, France ), CL Steinhardt (DAWN and Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark), I. Cortzen (IRAM, Domaine Universitaire, Saint-Martin-d’Hères, France), F. Rizzo (DAWN and Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen University, Denmark) and P. A. Osh (DAWN, Copenhagen, Denmark and Geneva Observatory, University of Geneva, Switzerland).

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