JWST detects more black holes than astronomers predicted

Observations from the James Webb Space Telescope could help answer questions about how celestial bodies formed in the early Universe.

Last August, astrophysicist Dale Kocevski published a paper on the preprint server arXiv with preliminary data on what the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has discovered about holes. black during one of its investigations into the Universe. The paper, now revised and officially published1, did not anticipate that JWST would provide groundbreaking insight into mysterious celestial bodies. “And it turned out to be completely wrong,” said Kocevski, now at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

Weeks after this publication was published, floodgates opened. A pre-print appeared on September 2 of last year, followed by another series of prints in recent months3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11, announcing the existence of existence. of more black holes in the distant Universe than astronomers ever dreamed. Just today, dozens of other new black holes were reported in a preprint12. JWST’s unprecedented power has allowed it to detect a vast range of these objects – from many faint, distant black holes to a handful of raging bright holes even further away.

Black holes themselves are not visible – their immense gravity means that not even light can escape – but they can be detected by looking for the superheated gas revolving around them like water sinks in the sewer. Before JWST, astronomers studied black holes using a variety of space and ground-based telescopes. But these can only detect the brightest black holes, including those relatively close to Earth. JWST is designed to see light from the distant Universe and can see even more distant black holes, including those that astronomers think are too dark to detect. Distances in the Universe can be measured by a quantity called redshift; The higher the redshift of an object, the more distant it is and the earlier it appears in the history of the Universe. Many of the black holes detected by JWST have redshifts between 4 and 6, which corresponds to a time when the Universe was about 1 billion to 1.5 billion years old.

Jorryt Matthee, an astrophysicist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, said in the JWST images these faint black holes appear as unimpressive blobs, but “they are distinct.” clear” with the galaxies around them. So far, JWST has detected black holes about ten times fainter at these intermediate redshifts than you would expect based on the previously known number of black holes. Kohei Inayoshi, an astrophysicist at Peking University in Beijing, says why “we still don’t understand”. JWST has also found some of the most distant black holes ever seen. The confirmed cluster8 record holder lies at the center of a well-studied galaxy called GN-z11, which has a redshift of 10.6. This suggests that as early as 400 million years after the Big Bang, the seed of a black hole formed and likely created a supermassive object. The upcoming observations aim to probe the details of how the superheated gas flows around GN-z11, which could shed new light on how the hole is, says astrophysicist Hannah Übler at the University of Cambridge, UK. Black affects the space around it.

JWST has also detected a probable black hole at redshift of 8.7, in the galaxy CEERS 1019. The black hole has accumulated a mass 9 million times that of the Sun during the first 570 million years of the Universe. pillar6. And there is even a candidate black hole for the 1211 redshift. Raffaella Schneider, an astrophysicist at Rome’s Sapienza University, explains that these distant discoveries by JWST correspond to recent simulations of the birth of the first black holes13. She and her colleagues discovered that massive black holes could form in the early Universe if they gobbled up gas at extremely high speeds in their early stages. In theory, this would violate the maximum rate at which black holes can grow. But the JWST observations suggest that some black holes, like those of GN-z11, can grow this way – and the theory may need to be revisited.


Kocevski, D. D. et al. Astrophys. J. 946, L14 (2023). Article Google Scholar Onoue, M. et al. Preprint at https://arxiv.org/abs/2209.07325 (2022). Kocevski, D. D. et al. Preprint at https://arxiv.org/abs/2302.00012 (2023). Marshall, M. A. et al. Preprint at