The Haro 11 galaxy. Like Tololo 0440-381, this nearby galaxy gives off a type of radiation that scientists think resembles the characteristics of the earliest stars in the universe. Haro 11 is about 300 million light-years away in the constellation Sculptor. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble/ESO and NASA)The Haro 11 galaxy. Like Tololo 0440-381, this nearby galaxy emits a type of radiation that scientists say resembles the characteristics of the earliest stars in the universe. Haro 11 is about 300 million light-years away in the constellation Sculptor. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble/ESO and NASA)
Nearby galaxies and their black holes could hold the answers to the remaining existential questions about the beginning of the universe.
A black hole inside a nearby galaxy called Tol 0440-381 shines about a million times brighter than the sun, researchers at the University of Iowa found in a new study. This object suggests that powerful black holes could have played an important role in cosmic evolution, say the team in this work.
Hundreds of thousands of years after the Big Bang, the universe was transparent for some time but had no stars. These dark ages ended about 400,000 years after the Big Bang, when the first stars began to form and light flooded the young cosmos.
These early stars were giants, 30 to 300 times larger than our sun and millions of times brighter. according to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. These powerful stellar furnaces burned for only a few million years before exploding as supernovae.
Although their lives were short and extreme, these early stars had a tremendous impact on our modern universe. The high-energy explosions released tremendous energy into space; energy powerful enough to split hydrogen atoms into electrons and protons, establishing a new period in the history of the universe: the epoch of reionization, which arose with the first stars and galaxies in the universe and lasted until about a billion years after the Big Bang.
The powerful light these stars emitted and their frequent transformation into black holes after going supernova probably played a very important role in the formation of the future galaxies that would soon populate the universe.
However, the details of how this all happened are still unclear. The James Webb Space Telescope is reaching its final home in space today (January 24), and scientists aim to use its next-generation instruments to help answer such questions about the universe’s adolescence. In the meantime, however, these researchers are working on this question by studying nearby galaxies with instruments that are already fully operational.
Using data collected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in February 2021, the team identified the powerful black hole within Tol 0440-381 and found similarities to the early stars that drove the epoch of reionization.
“The implication is that black hole outflows may be important in allowing ultraviolet radiation to escape from galaxies that reionized the intergalactic medium,” said study author Phil Kaaret, professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Sciences. University of Iowa Astronomy in a statement about the new work.