Which came first: Black holes or galaxies? | Science & Technology

Black holes not only existed at the dawn of time, they birthed new stars and supercharged galaxy formation, a new analysis of James Webb Space Telescope data suggests.

The insights upend theories of how black holes shape the cosmos, challenging classical understanding that they formed after the first stars and galaxies emerged. Instead, black holes might have dramatically accelerated the birth of new stars during the first 50 million years of the universe, a fleeting period within its 13.8 billion — year history.

“We know these monster black holes exist at the center of galaxies near our Milky Way, but the big surprise now is that they were present at the beginning of the universe as well and were almost like building blocks or seeds for early galaxies,” said lead author Joseph Silk, a professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University and at Institut of Astrophysics, Paris, Sorbonne University. “They really boosted everything, like gigantic amplifiers of star formation, which is a whole turnaround of what we thought possible before — so much so that this could completely shake up our understanding of how galaxies form.”

The work is newly published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Distant galaxies from the very early universe, observed through the Webb telescope, appear much brighter than scientists predicted and reveal unusually high numbers of young stars and supermassive black holes, Silk said.

Conventional wisdom holds that black holes formed after the collapse of supermassive stars and that galaxies formed after the first stars lit up the dark early universe. But the analysis by Silk’s team suggests that black holes and galaxies coexisted and influenced each other’s fate during the first 100 million years. If the entire history of the universe were a 12-month calendar, those years would be like the first days of January, Silk said.

“We’re arguing that black hole outflows crushed gas clouds, turning them into stars and greatly accelerating…

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