cosmic infrared background illustration

The cosmic microwave background, shown at left, is a flash of light that occurred when the young universe cooled enough for electrons and protons to form the first atoms. It contains slight temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of slightly different densities, representing the seeds of all cosmic structure seen today. The universe then went dark for hundreds of millions of years until the first stars shone and the first black holes began accreting gas. A portion of the infrared and X-ray signals from these sources is preserved in the cosmic infrared background, or CIB, and its X-ray equivalent, the CXB. At least 20 percent of the structure in these backgrounds changes in concert, indicating that black hole activity was hundreds of times more intense in the early universe than it is today. (Illustration by Karen Teramura, UHIfA)


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.

Guenther Hasinger

Guenther Hasinger

“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.

This Post Has One Comment
  1. This result is long-awaited… When I took Astrobiology 281 a year ago Spring, my motif was on the earliest-possible-appearance of mankind in the universe–and one ‘curious’ condition I discovered as I traced the scientific research [e.g. Nature 2010 Tacconi &a] was that the rate of galactic gas consumption projected-back left unexplained the first 35% stars…I tweaked it by certain assumptions on intergalactic gas, yet, the best I could squeeze left >5% of all stars appearing in a burst of what I now call ‘supernova chaining’ where early cosmic star formation was in dense ‘vacuum’ and each supernova shock-triggered hundreds more stars into existence in the pristine-hydrogen neighbor and 1-per-100 a giant to-be-supernova 10 million years later–which, at superunity for some eons, meant exponential-growth on my chart…And now we see them.

    (What this may do to WMAP fine structure and Inflation Theory is tbd.)


    ==“TIME IS DISTANCE, MONEY IS NO OBJECT.” The Cosmic Big Bang Motto==

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