Astronomy

A surprise window to the early universe

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Science  31 Oct 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6209, pp. 597
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6209.597-f

Carbon monoxide emission from quasar J1148

CREDIT: S. GALLERANI ET AL., MONTHLY NOTICES OF THE ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY (19 OCTOBER 2014) © OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS

Less than a billion years after the Big Bang, black holes at the cores of distant quasars had already reached millions of times the Sun's mass, implying a puzzlingly rapid growth rate. To understand the process, astronomers look for their predecessors at even greater distances, but such objects may be cloaked in dust and gas that thwart optical and x-ray detection. Gallerani et al. recently detected a millimeter emission line (J = 17 to 16) of the molecule CO in one luminous quasar (J1148) that cuts through dust unabated. If the earliest ancestors of supermassive black holes indeed exist in such thick cocoons, long-wavelength emission lines may offer a way to look at sources that would otherwise lie invisible.

Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 10.1093/mnras/stu2031 (2014).

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