Synopsis: A Black Hole’s Lucky Stars

Ancient supermassive black holes may have formed from the merging of two black holes created in the collapse of supermassive stars.
Synopsis figure
C. Reisswig et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. (2013)

Astronomers have recently discovered, in the most remote corners of the Universe, a number of quasars surrounding black holes a billion times more massive than the Sun. Researchers have dated these distant supermassive black holes (SMBHs) to only several hundred million years after the Big Bang, but are uncertain how such massive objects could have formed so quickly. Writing in Physical Review Letters, Christian Reisswig at the California Institute of Technology and colleagues analyze one possible origin of SMBHs in the early Universe.

Black holes are believed to grow from an initial “seed” that accretes more matter over time. But assuming realistic accretion rates, SMBHs that formed soon after the Big Bang must have come from already massive seeds. Researchers have proposed that large enough seeds could have formed either directly from a primordial gas cloud or in the aftermath of the collapse of a massive star.

Using hydrodynamic models based on general relativity, Reisswig et al. simulated one scenario in which a pair of SMBHs forms from the collapse of stars with masses ~10,000 times that of the Sun. The process is possible if the star is rotating rapidly and, at the onset of its collapse, small binary fluctuations in the star’s density are present. These fluctuations may seed the development of a pair of black holes that subsequently inspiral and merge into a single SMBH.

According to their calculations, this type of SMBH formation would have been accompanied by the emission of intense gravitational waves. Upcoming space-based gravitational-wave observatories may take note and aim their detectors at SMBHs to reveal the elusive waves predicted by Einstein in 1915. – Matteo Rini


Features

More Features »

Announcements

More Announcements »

Subject Areas

AstrophysicsCosmology

Previous Synopsis

Atomic and Molecular Physics

Interferometry with Entangled Atoms

Read More »

Next Synopsis

Particles and Fields

Son et Lumière

Read More »

Related Articles

Viewpoint: Neutron Star Merger Seen and Heard
Cosmology

Viewpoint: Neutron Star Merger Seen and Heard

For the first time, researchers have detected both light and gravitational waves from the same event in space. Read More »

Synopsis: Self-Interacting Dark Matter Scores Again
Cosmology

Synopsis: Self-Interacting Dark Matter Scores Again

Dark matter that interacts with itself provides a better description of the speeds of stars in galaxies than dark matter that doesn’t self-interact. Read More »

Synopsis: Searching for Neutron Star Gravitational Waves
Astrophysics

Synopsis: Searching for Neutron Star Gravitational Waves

The first run of LIGO and Virgo’s gravitational-wave search shows no evidence of spinning asymmetric neutron stars, but recent upgrades could make the detection possible. Read More »

More Articles