Webb telescope spots a supermassive black hole formed over 13 billion years ago

Jul 16, 2023, 3:48 PM

This vast landscape was stitched together from multiple images captured by the James Webb Space Tel...

This vast landscape was stitched together from multiple images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope in near-infrared light. (NASA/ESA/CSA/S. Finklestein)

(NASA/ESA/CSA/S. Finklestein)

(CNN) — The James Webb Space Telescope has delivered yet another astounding discovery, spying an active supermassive black hole deeper into the universe than has ever been recorded.

The black hole lies within CEERS 1019 — an extremely old galaxy likely formed 570 million years after the big bang — making it more than 13 billion years old. And scientists were perplexed to find just how small the celestial object’s central black hole measures.

“This black hole clocks in at about 9 million solar masses,” according to a NASA news release. A solar mass is a unit equivalent to the mass of the sun in our home solar system — which is about 333,000 times larger than the Earth.

That’s “far less than other black holes that also existed in the early universe and were detected by other telescopes,” according to NASA. “Those behemoths typically contain more than 1 billion times the mass of the Sun – and they are easier to detect because they are much brighter.”

The ability to bring such a dim, distant black hole into focus is a key feature of the Webb telescope, which uses highly sensitive instruments to detect otherwise invisible light.

“Looking at this distant object with this telescope is a lot like looking at data from black holes that exist in galaxies near our own,” Rebecca Larson, who received her doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin this year, said in a statement. Larson, who led this discovery, is now a postdoctoral research associate at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Physics and Astronomy.

Not only did the researchers pinpoint this fascinating black hole — they also discovered two others nearby that appear to have been formed about 1 billion years after the big bang and were also lightweight compared with others of that period.

Eleven new galaxies were also recorded with evidence from Webb’s Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science, or CEERS, Survey, also led by the University of Texas at Austin.


Into the CEERS 1019 galaxy


The relative smallness of the black hole at CEER 1019’s center is a mystery for scientists. It’s not yet clear how such a small black hole formed in the early days of the universe, which was known to produce much larger gravity wells.

The galaxy CEERS 1019 has other interesting attributes. It appears as a string of three bright spots, for example, rather than a singular disk-shaped formation of many other galaxies.

“We’re not used to seeing so much structure in images at these distances,” CEERS team member Jeyhan Kartaltepe of the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, said in a statement. “A galaxy merger could be partly responsible for fueling the activity in this galaxy’s black hole, and that could also lead to increased star formation.”

The newly discovered galaxies are still spewing out new stars, according to NASA. And these findings, along with others from the CEERS survey, may lead to fascinating breakthroughs.

“Webb was the first to detect some of these galaxies,” said Seiji Fujimoto, a NASA Hubble Fellow at UT Austin who was part of the University of Texas at Austin team that discovered 11 new galaxies, in a statement. “This set, along with other distant galaxies we may identify in the future, might change our understanding of star formation and galaxy evolution throughout cosmic history.”

Researchers also note that the black hole within CEERS 1019 may only remain the most distant active supermassive black hole ever recorded for a brief time.

The astronomical community is already pouring over data that could pinpoint other, more distant black holes. It could do so in just a “few weeks,” according to NASA.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

Science & Technology

High-tech cell phones...

Michael Houck

Cox declares summer Fridays as ‘Phone-Free Fridays’

Utah's governor announced a new declaration encouraging Utahns to get off their phones for at least one day a week this summer.

2 days ago

green rows of tomato plants...

Mike Anderson

Iceland facilities excite Utah delegation about geothermal possibilities

Some state leaders are learning how small geothermal plants could power communities of the future here in Utah. With access to geothermal water from the ground, there is a lot that can be done.

3 days ago

File - Workers install lighting on an "X" sign atop the company headquarters, formerly known as Twi...

Associated Press

What happened to the likes? X is now hiding which posts you like from other users

Social media platform X is now hiding your likes.

4 days ago

FILE: The Apple Store at Towson Town Center Mall on May 10, 2024 in Towson, Maryland. (Photo by And...

Michael Liedtke, AP Technology Writer

Apple expected to enter AI race with ambitions to overtake the early leaders

Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference on Monday is expected to herald the company’s move into generative AI.

6 days ago

(left) The iconic photo from the Moon looking at Earth during the Apollo 8 voyage, taken by Astrona...

Associated Press

Former astronaut William Anders, who took iconic Earthrise photo, has died in Washington plane crash

The former Apollo 8 astronaut who took the iconic “Earthrise” photo showing the planet in 1968, was killed Friday in a plane crash.

9 days ago

FILE - A hiker passes a sign warning of extreme heat at the start of the Golden Canyon trail, in De...

Emma Benson

Extreme heat is leading cause of weather-related deaths; how to protect yourself

Extreme heat is the number one cause of weather-related deaths, which is why it's crucial to stay diligent in high temperatures to protect yourself and your loved ones.

11 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light up your home with these top lighting trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for hassle-free computer repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Webb telescope spots a supermassive black hole formed over 13 billion years ago