Hubble sees missing link between galaxies and supermassive black holes


Rapidly growing black holes in dusty, early star-forming galaxies have been predicted by theories and computer simulations, but never observed until now. (Picture: NASA, ESA, N. Bartmann)

Nasa’s Hubble has been on a roll and its latest contribution has led to the discovery of a rapidly growing black hole.

An international team of astronomers have uncovered a mysterious red dot lurking unnoticed in one of the best-studied areas of the night sky, the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey-North (GOODS-North) field. 

The object, referred to as GNz7q, is considered a crucial ‘missing link’ between some of the very earliest galaxies and the birth of supermassive black holes.

The mixture of radiation from the object has led researchers to believe it’s a growing black hole shrouded in dust.

In time, the black hole is expected to emerge from its dusty cocoon as a brilliant quasar, an intense beacon of light at the heart of an early galaxy.


Nasa hubble

The object, referred to as GNz7q, is considered a crucial ‘missing link’ between some of the very earliest galaxies and the birth of supermassive black holes. (Picture: NASA, ESA, N. Bartmann)

Archival Hubble data from Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys helped the team determine that GNz7q existed just 750 million years after the big bang.

‘GNz7q is a unique discovery that was found just at the center of a famous, well-studied sky field,’ Gabriel Brammer, an astronomer from the Niels Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

The team obtained evidence that GNz7q is a newly formed black hole as Hubble found a compact source of ultraviolet (UV) and infrared light that couldn’t be caused by emission from galaxies, but is consistent with the radiation expected from materials that are falling onto a black hole.

Rapidly growing black holes in dusty, early star-forming galaxies have been predicted by theories and computer simulations, but never observed until now.


Quasar nasa

In time, the black hole is expected to emerge from its dusty cocoon as a brilliant quasar, an intense beacon of light at the heart of an early galaxy. (Picture: NASA, ESA and J. Olmsted)

‘Our analysis suggests that GNz7q is the first example of a rapidly growing black hole in the dusty core of a starburst galaxy at an epoch close to the earliest supermassive black hole known in the universe,’ explained Seiji Fujimoto, the lead author of the paper.

The team believes that GNz7q could be a missing link between starburst galaxies and luminous quasars with both aspects of the dusty starburst galaxy and the quasar.

‘GNz7q provides a direct connection between these two rare populations and provides a new avenue toward understanding the rapid growth of supermassive black holes in the early days of the universe,’ continued Fujimoto. ‘Our discovery provides an example of precursors to the supermassive black holes we observe at later epochs,’

GNz7q’s host galaxy is forming stars at the rate of 1,600 solar masses per year, and GNz7q itself appears bright at UV wavelengths but very faint at X-ray wavelengths. 

This discovery thanks to the Hubble telescope has provided a unique target for Nasa’s brand new James Webb Space Telescope to use its spectroscopic instruments to study objects like GNz7q in unprecedented detail.

‘Once in regular operation, Webb will have the power to decisively determine how common these rapidly growing black holes truly are,’ said Fujimoto.

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