Supersonic gas streams enhance the formation of massive black holes in the early universe

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Science  29 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6358, pp. 1375-1378
DOI: 10.1126/science.aai9119

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Making the first supermassive black holes

Supermassive black holes existed less than a billion years after the Big Bang. Because black holes can grow at a maximum rate that depends on their current mass, it has been difficult to understand how such massive black holes could have formed so quickly. Hirano et al. developed simulations to show that streaming motions—velocity offsets between the gas and dark matter components—could have produced black holes with tens of thousands of solar masses in the early universe. That's big enough to grow into the supermassive black holes that we observe today.

Science, this issue p. 1375


The origin of super-massive black holes in the early universe remains poorly understood. Gravitational collapse of a massive primordial gas cloud is a promising initial process, but theoretical studies have difficulty growing the black hole fast enough. We report numerical simulations of early black hole formation starting from realistic cosmological conditions. Supersonic gas motions left over from the Big Bang prevent early gas cloud formation until rapid gas condensation is triggered in a protogalactic halo. A protostar is formed in the dense, turbulent gas cloud, and it grows by sporadic mass accretion until it acquires 34,000 solar masses. The massive star ends its life with a catastrophic collapse to leave a black hole—a promising seed for the formation of a monstrous black hole.

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