University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa astronomer Guenther Hasinger, along with a team of international astronomers, has discovered evidence of a significant number of black holes that accompanied the first stars in the universe. Hasinger discussed the findings at the 222nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Indianapolis. A paper describing the study was published in the May 20 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.
Using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which observes in the infrared, researchers have concluded one of every five sources contributing to the infrared signal is a black hole.
“Our results indicate black holes are responsible for at least 20 percent of the cosmic infrared background, which indicates intense activity from black holes feeding on gas during the epoch of the first stars,” said Alexander Kashlinsky, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The cosmic infrared background (CIB) is the collective light from an epoch when structure first emerged in the universe. Astronomers think it arose from clusters of massive suns in the universe’s first stellar generations, as well as black holes, which produce vast amounts of energy as they accumulate gas.
“We wanted to understand the nature of the sources in this era in more detail, so I suggested examining Chandra data to explore the possibility of X-ray emission associated with the lumpy glow of the CIB,” said Hasinger, who is director of the UH Institute for Astronomy.
“This is an exciting and surprising result that may provide a first look into the era of initial galaxy formation in the universe,” said another contributor to the study, Harvey Moseley, a senior astrophysicist at Goddard. “It is essential that we continue this work and confirm it.”
For more, go to the Institute for Astronomy news release.