NASA Data Suggests Black Holes Abundant Among the Earliest Stars

June 5, 2013

Space

New Study Reveals Black Holes Abundant Among The Earliest Stars

The cosmic microwave background, shown at left in this illustration, 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 we see around us 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. Credit: Karen Teramura, UHIfA

A newly published study suggest that black holes were abundant among the first stars in the universe, finding that 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.

By comparing infrared and X-ray background signals across the same stretch of sky, an international team of astronomers has discovered evidence of a significant number of black holes that accompanied the first stars in the universe.

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.

Even the most powerful telescopes cannot see the most distant stars and black holes as individual sources. But their combined glow, traveling across billions of light-years, allows astronomers to begin deciphering the relative contributions of the first generation of stars and black holes in the young cosmos. This was at a time when dwarf galaxies assembled, merged and grew into majestic objects like our own Milky Way galaxy.

“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 Guenther Hasinger, director of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, and a member of the study team.

Hasinger discussed the findings Tuesday 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.

The work began in 2005, when Kashlinsky and his colleagues studying Spitzer observations first saw hints of a remnant glow. The glow became more obvious in further Spitzer studies by the same team in 2007 and 2012. The 2012 investigation examined a region known as the Extended Groth Strip, a single well-studied slice of sky in the constellation Bootes. In all cases, when the scientists carefully subtracted all known stars and galaxies from the data, what remained was a faint, irregular glow. There is no direct evidence this glow is extremely distant, but telltale characteristics lead researchers to conclude it represents the CIB.

In 2007, Chandra took especially deep exposures of the Extended Groth Strip as part of a multiwavelength survey. Along a strip of sky slightly larger than the full moon, the deepest Chandra observations overlap with the deepest Spitzer observations. Using Chandra observations, lead researcher Nico Cappelluti, an astronomer with the National Institute of Astrophysics in Bologna, Italy, produced X-ray maps with all of the known sources removed in three wavelength bands. The result, paralleling the Spitzer studies, was a faint, diffuse X-ray glow that constitutes the cosmic X-ray background (CXB).

Comparing these maps allowed the team to determine whether the irregularities of both backgrounds fluctuated independently or in concert. Their detailed study indicates fluctuations at the lowest X-ray energies are consistent with those in the infrared maps.

“This measurement took us some five years to complete and the results came as a great surprise to us,” said Cappelluti, who also is affiliated with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Baltimore.

The process is similar to standing in Los Angeles while looking for signs of fireworks in New York. The individual pyrotechnics would be too faint to see, but removing all intervening light sources would allow the detection of some unresolved light. Detecting smoke would strengthen the conclusion at least part of this signal came from fireworks.

In the case of the CIB and CXB maps, portions of both infrared and X-ray light seem to come from the same regions of the sky. The team reports black holes are the only plausible sources that can produce both energies at the intensities required. Regular star-forming galaxies, even those that vigorously form stars, cannot do this.

By teasing out additional information from this background light, the astronomers are providing the first census of sources at the dawn of structure in the universe.

“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.”

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra’s science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass. Data are archived at the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Publication: N. Cappelluti, et al., “Cross-correlating cosmic IR and X-ray background fluctuations: evidence of significant black hole populations among the CIB sources,” 2013, ApJ, 769, 68; doi:10.1088/0004-637X/769/1/68

PDF Copy of the Study: Cross-correlating cosmic IR and X-ray background fluctuations: evidence of significant black hole populations among the CIB sources

Source: Francis Reddy, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; NASA

Image: Karen Teramura, UHIfA

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14 Responses to “NASA Data Suggests Black Holes Abundant Among the Earliest Stars”

  1. Charles sifers Says:

    So what does that say about the current population of black holes?

    Reply

    • Steve M Says:

      After the big bang, matter or energy, or heat was abundant, so due to the huge amount of matter, it seems that black holes would be the first type of formations in the ‘new’ cosmos, since the force of gravity was predominant. The strong force did not yet exist. The dilemma is -what does this say about the sudden expansion of the early cosmos?

      Reply

    • C. Peter O'Connor Says:

      As soon as a feature/report like this one is published the dogmatists spill out in droves, all willing and eager to show how much they have been brainwashed into believing any old garbage. The same dogmatists who firmly believe that our entire universe came from a ‘Singularity’ which, by the way had no generator or in fact any scientifically provable cause. It is just;- (In the beginning there was a singularity) which by the way, just miraculously appears out of nowhere and which must have been made from, ‘Nothing’ as there wasn’t ‘Anything’ before the Bang! A, nothing generated explosion results from something the size of a Proton which then proceeds to ‘Inflate’ and in the process produces all manner of amazing phenomena such as; Matter, Energy, Gravity, Electromagnetic Energy. Protons develop as if by magic forming Hydrogen which collapses and forms Stars which form Iron at their cores which produce Neutrons? A process that misses out the scientific fact that Protons are all positively charged and Neutrons are not, but provide no ‘Logical’ explanation of why or how such fundamental difference could possibly occur.

      I took the dogma and threw it into the waste disposal unit of reality and started again. Ultimately producing a completely new set of theories on the creation of our universe, a work so radical that when it was read by the academia it was instantly subdued.

      So much for the, (Honest and Professional) Progression of Science.

      Reply

      • Steve M Says:

        I would be very interested in your new set of theories. I do not quite buy the big bang theory, because it implies a start of our cosmos. I think the ‘beginning’ of our cosmos is incomprehensible. It is not explainable by science. It implies a beginning oF time and space. At the beginning, how much time did it take to form hydrogen? How was time measured when no ‘yardstick’ of time existed? I have read a book – “The First Three Minutes” – who was keeping the time? There have been some very dubious theories given credence by academia. I read them anyway because these ideas make me think. So, what are your ideas?

        Reply

    • C. Peter O'Connor Says:

      Hi, Steve M, You state very authoritatively; after the big Bang ‘Heat?’, ‘Matter’ or Energy was abundant? Incidentally, (Did you know that ‘Heat’ is radiant energy). So, you simply repeated yourself.. Secondly; ‘Where did the phenomena being quoted, come from?’ You then go on to note; Due to the huge amount of Matter.’ Eh? ‘What is, ‘Matter’?’ In science, one cannot just make the claim ‘And ‘Matter separated out’. There has to be an explanation of how Matter separated out and from ‘What’. You then go on to note; ‘It seems that black holes would be the first formations in the ‘new’ cosmos.’ Why? ‘Isn’t it purported that, H1 Hydrogen formed first which then collapsed down to form the galaxies and all they contain?’ The latter being the reason why there are now huge voids between them.You then go on to describe that the ‘Strong force’ wasn’t around? ‘Isn’t the so-called ‘Strong Force’, electromagnetic? an energy source that cannot be made? So, Where id the Strong Force come from if it cannot be made? Another miracle perhaps?

      Lets do a recap here. According to your statement, Both, Energy and Matter mysteriously appear from nowhere which is then joined by electromagnetic energy which, some time later also miraculously appears from nowhere in order to form Protons?

      The reason I put the latter questions is because, it seems to me your statement is reliant on, ‘Miracles’ Not, Science. And I don’t believe in, Miracles.

      Reply

      • Steve Says:

        Peter, I am simply making a ‘shot-in-the-dark’ hypothesis, based on what I have read, primarily “Astrophysical Concepts” by Harwitt. I claim no certain knowledge. And BTW I think the strong force is not ‘electromagnetic’ that is the weak force. I could be wrong because everything I think I know is from reading about astrophysics and cosmology – since I graduated college in 1970. I never took any class in physics or astronomy, but read a broad number of topics that I was able to comprehend. The first book I read about astronomy was by Isaac Asimov – “The Universe – From Flat Earth to Quasars.” I was hooked. The recent book I read was “The Five Ages of the Universe.” One of the ‘ages’ is the age of black holes. Then comes the Dark Age, lasting trillions of years, before all matter fizzles out into photons that are light years apart. Our knowledge of black holes is mostly hypotheses. I have a theory about the age of Black holes. According to Hawking, black holes do emit radiation – Hawking radiation. That happens when a particle and an anti-particle form at the event horizon. Both particles may get sucked into the black hole, but some particles do escape, thus the Hawking radiation. After trillions of years the black hole may lose enough mass that the black hole becomes free of the force of gravilty and some other force takes over. Then the black hole goes into a ‘super nova type release of its energy. Maybe it is as a result of the strong force exerting itself and overcomes the force of gravity. It could be the source of one of many big bangs that occur in the cosmos. Ours may not be the only big bang in the cosmos. The thing to be worked out is what is inside a black hole? Is it some type of degenerate matter that has properties not yet understood and therefore my whole hypothesis is wrong. What do you think??

        Reply

    • C. Peter O'Connor Says:

      Nothing, Charles sifers!

      Reply

  2. Steve M Says:

    By “matter” – I think after the big bang all was degenerate matter. No?

    Reply

    • C. Peter O'Connor Says:

      No! Steve M!

      Reply

      • Steve M Says:

        C . Peter, you sound much more like a “dogmatist” or maybe you just know better than I and others. I don’t see much theorizing by you, just putting others’ ideas down. Where do you get your ideas? A text? Where?

        Reply

  3. James Hayes Says:

    lol, how long do black holes take to form?

    Surely this creates problems relating to the delusion that the universe has an age, and that there was A big bang from which point time began. (only form can have an age, and the universe, the one-verse can only be infinite thus without age).

    Black holes are merely the appearance of matter ultra-compression, in reality they are worm holes and not essentially different to any other part of spacetime. I’d bet any money that we will never see any form of black hole – we might see a hole, but it would be like the end of a funnel opening up into more space – that space just being older inside than outside. The nearer one got to a black hole, the more it would show as just the inside of a whirlpool formation of space, thus a worm hole.

    The existing universe is constantly receding, in relative terms, from the new universe content that is continually being created in the present. It is the same basic concept as how things look smaller when far away, when in fact they are not.

    Reply

    • Steve Says:

      I think most large black holes are beyond our ability to ‘see them,’ because they are mostly ancient – older that the known age of our universe. Our universe and our experience of it is limited by the speed of light. Currently we can see only to about 13.7 Billion light years. Light beyond that has not and cannot reach us. I think most black holes are so distant from us that when they shed enough Hawking radiation, they create a big bang and because they are alone in their part of the cosmos, they add to the ‘multiverse’ that has been hypothesized.

      Reply

    • Steve M Says:

      James Hayes, I agree with you about the age of our universe. I have read bout the big bang and it was after 300,000 years that matter, ie protons and other atomic particles formed. 300,000 years ??!! When and how was time measured, what about the theory of expansion? I think time is ultimately a subjective, local phenomena. I think that the universe is much larger and older than we think. As for black holes, they may exist, but beyond our ability to “see” them, because they are beyond the 13.7 billion light years that is the limit of our ability to see. The universe is probably limitless in size, mostly populated by black holes. The black holes may be trillions of years old. Check out “The Five Ages of the Universe” I’ve misplaced my copy, but I’ll find it and re-read the 4th age or chapter – “The Age of Black Holes.”

      Reply

  4. Andrew Ackerman Says:

    I’ll have you know that black holes are vastly misunderstood and that the 7 layered lens effect consisting of each layer density and composition of our atmosphere and radiation belts creates a demagnification of outerspace from the ground and that the energy released from black holes as they crush matter out of existance is only visible to the human eye from the ground and not from space. Only after our atmosphere has acted as a transformer and buffer is the light made into a wavelength of electromagnetics visible by the human eye. The Sun for direct example is not visible from space because it releases invisible radiation that hits the atmosphere and luminates it sort of like a flaurescent light bulb. In short the secret of our solar system is we have been blindsighted by the effects of our atmosphere to the fact that our Sun is a quasar. And I have satalight imagery of it feeding off our own atmosphere from time to time. Stars are objects with internal fusion reaction and matter creation going on such asthe Earthis doing itself. The Sun actually only has fusion in the hydrogen gas that surounds the Sun and everything below that layer is crushed out of existance releaseing the energy which the matter consisted of as it has no mass. This creates the heat energy required for fusion which causes flares. The massive gravity provides the compression required. Because hydrogen is so light it acts as a coolant and a medium transferring the energy out into space that is created but crushing matter out of existance and so delivering to our atmosphere the energy to light the day. Stars like the earth release very little energy. It is only once they become so massive that the gravitational energy anilates matter do they release enough energy to outshine every star and galaxy I the universe and to us we see this only during the day when we face the black hole in our own sky. Jupiter has also been misunderstood as it releases constant X ray emmisions from both of its poles and its wobble allows us to be flashed at a constant timed interval. Eventually they will merge. Good day. Now you all know how the show will end. So lets find our great grand children a new home and a way to get there. Good day.

    Reply

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