The James Webb Space Telescope has spotted the most distant supermassive black hole yet – a tiny blip that sprang to life about 570 million years after the big bang – as part of the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science survey.
But it’s not the only surprising thing about the black hole, now named CEERS 1019.
It’s nine million times the mass of our Sun.
This might seem monstrously large to human minds, but they’re not unusual compared to other SMBHs dotted across our skies, some of which are closer to one billion times the mass of the Sun, so the surprise is that 1019 is small.
Objects like CEERS 1019 have long been hypothesised to exist, but the technology has not previously existed to find them.
It’s also likely that 1019’s record will be eclipsed in the coming weeks, with NASA confirming several other further-flung black holes are under review.
“Until now, research about objects in the early universe was largely theoretical,” says CEERS survey leader Professor Steven Finkelstein of the University of Texas.
“With Webb, not only can we see black holes and galaxies at extreme distances, we can now start to accurately measure them. That’s the tremendous power of this telescope.”
Two other distant black holes were also discovered as part of NASA’s CEERS survey with the James Webb Space Telescope. Tiny black holes were spotted in the galaxies CEERS 746, which formed a billion years after the big bang, and CEERS 2782, which arose about 100 million years later. These two SMBHs are about 10 million solar masses.
The James Webb Space Telescope has been just as busy closer to home, with NASA recently dropping spectacular near-infrared images of Saturn’s rings.
These first such images of the solar system’s second-largest planet contrast with a more conventional picture of the spectacular golden gas giant, with the Sun’s light mainly absorbed by Saturn’s atmosphere. This causes the planet to appear dim when studied using near-infrared cameras.
It means the JWST near-infrared camera has imaged all the solar system’s gas giants.
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