Scientist spot red dots in James Webb images, discover they’re actually black holes

Mar 12, 2024

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Scientist spot red dots in James Webb images, discover they’re actually black holes

Mar 12, 2024

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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nasa red dots black holes

Our understanding of black holes might be due to an update thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). In recent images, scientists have stumbled upon a surprising discovery: a bunch of faint red dots in the distant universe. These little red dots, invisible to previous telescopes like Hubble, are turning out to be something unexpected – baby versions of supermassive black holes.

Black holes are regions in spacetime with gravity so strong that not even light can escape. Supermassive black holes (SMBHs), residing at the center of most galaxies, can be millions to billions of times the mass of our sun. Some supermassive black holes formed way back in the early universe seem way too big for their age. These “problematic quasars” are a head-scratcher for scientists because current models suggest they shouldn’t have grown so massive that fast.

The new findings

The faint red dots discovered by JWST are like the missing puzzle pieces. These objects, though much smaller than monstrous quasars, are still confirmed to be supermassive black holes.

Scientists were able to identify them by analyzing a specific type of light signature “The wider the base of the Hα lines, the higher the gas velocity,” explains lead researcher Jorryt Matthee. “Thus, these spectra tell us that we are looking at a very small gas cloud that moves extremely rapidly and orbits something very massive like an SMBH.”

These baby black holes are shrouded in dust, hence their red color. As this dust gets cleared by the black hole’s own activity, they will eventually transform into the giant quasars we see today. Studying these baby quasars provides a window into the early life of these cosmic giants, potentially helping us understand how the problematic quasars came to be.

This finding, published in The Astrophysical Journal, could be a major breakthrough in our quest to unravel the mysteries of how these giants form. But it also highlights the incredible capabilities of JWST. Matthee and his team found the baby quasars thanks to the datasets acquired by the EIGER (Emission-line galaxies and Intergalactic Gas in the Epoch of Reionization) and FRESCO (First Reionization Epoch Spectroscopically Complete Observations) collaborations. These are JWST programs in which Matthee was involved.

“EIGER was designed to study specifically the rare blue supermassive quasars and their environments. It was not designed to find the little red dots. But we found them by chance in the same dataset. This is because, by using the JWST’s Near Infrared Camera, EIGER acquires emission spectra of all objects in the Universe. If you raise your index finger and extend your arm completely, the region of the night sky we explored corresponds to roughly a twentieth of the surface of your nail. So far, we have probably only scratched the surface.”

[via Futurism; image credits: © NASA, ESA, CSA, J. MATTHEE (ISTA), R. MACKENZIE (ETH ZURICH), D. KASHINO (NATIONAL OBSERVATORY OF JAPAN), S. LILLY (ETH ZURICH)]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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One response to “Scientist spot red dots in James Webb images, discover they’re actually black holes”

  1. Lawrence Avatar
    Lawrence

    Wow. So in a million years we’ll get swallowed up. Mmmm. Good ta know for my ai longs future.