Throwback Thursday: How do black holes get so big, so fast? (Synopsis)

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” –Joseph Campbell

When we look at the centers of galaxies, it’s no surprise that there are large black holes there, millions or even billions of times the mass of the Sun.

Image credit: Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), Hubble Space Telescope (green), Spitzer Space Telescope (pink), & GALEX (purple).
Image credit: Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), Hubble Space Telescope (green), Spitzer Space Telescope (pink), & GALEX (purple).

As we look farther and farther away, and hence farther back in time, we’d expect these masses to be much smaller. But what we find is that we have supermassive black holes at the centers of quasars many billions of times the Sun’s mass all the way back to when the Universe was just a few hundred million years old: less than 5% its current age. Does this mean our ideas about how the Universe formed all need to be thrown out?

Image credit: NASA, ESA, & F. Paresce (INAF-IASF), R. O’Connell (U. Virginia), & the HST WFC3 Science Oversight Committee.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, & F. Paresce (INAF-IASF), R. O’Connell (U. Virginia), & the HST WFC3 Science Oversight Committee.

Hardly: here’s the solution to the mystery of how such massive black holes were formed so early on.