Half a dozen galaxies entangled in the gravitational web of a supermassive black hole, less than a billion years after the Big Bang, have been spotted by astronomers.
Researchers from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) say this is the first time such a close grouping has been seen so soon after the universe began.
Black holes emerging in the earliest years of the universe are thought to have formed from the collapse of the first stars – but until now astronomers didn’t know how they were able to grow so big – up to the size of a billion Suns – so quickly.
The observations of the galaxies surrounding the supermassive black hole were made by the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT).
Finding this tangled web of galaxies ‘feeding’ an early supermassive black hole suggests they grow in web-like structures which contain plenty of gas to fuel them.
Supermassive black holes are exotic, strange and relatively common cosmic phenomena – they appear at the centre of most galaxies including the Milky Way.
Marco Mignoli, astronomer from INAF, and study lead author, said the research was driven by the desire to understand supermassive black holes in the early universe.
‘These are extreme systems and to date we have had no good explanation for their existence,’ the Italian researcher explained.
All of the galaxies surrounding the black hole were lying in a cosmic ‘spider’s web’ of gas extending to more than 300 times the size of the Milky Way.
‘The cosmic web filaments are like spider’s web threads,’ said Mignoli, adding the ‘galaxies stand and grow where the filaments cross’.
‘Streams of gas – available to fuel both the galaxies and the central supermassive black hole – can flow along the filaments.’
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Source: Daily Mail