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James Webb spots most distant active black hole ever observed

Published Jul 9th, 2023 6:18PM EDT
black hole
Image: Vadimsadovski/Adobe

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A group of researchers discovered the most distant active black hole we’ve ever observed, at least so far. The discovery was made using the James Webb Space Telescope. Astronomers say they made the discovery in the galaxy CEERS 1019, which is believed to have existed over 570 million years after the big bang, according to a report from NASA.

The black hole found in this galaxy is also intriguing because it is much smaller than astronomers expected it to be, especially for the time that it existed. Evidence of the black hole was uncovered as part of the Webb Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science (CEERs) Survey, which is led by Steven Finkelstein of the University of Texas at Austin.

timeline of most distant black hole discoveriesImage source: NASA, ESA, CSA, Leah Hustak (STScI)

The survey relies on data from near and mid-infrared images known as spectra. The galaxy isn’t only notable because of how long ago it existed. As I noted before, the black hole here is the most distant active black hole we’ve discovered. Further, it is estimated to measure just 9 million solar masses, far less than other black holes like it, especially considering it is technically a supermassive black hole.

While the black hole is believed to still be active, its estimated mass means that it is more on par with the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole, which is of a similar mass. What’s really intriguing is that astronomers aren’t quite sure how massive black holes like this formed in such early portions of the universe.

But this isn’t the only active black hole that has been discovered in Webb’s data for the CEERS Survey, and this one could only hold that record of the most distant active black hole for a few short weeks. The hope is that discovering more like it will help astronomers figure out exactly how these kinds of black holes come to be.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.