‘Direct Collapse’ Black Holes May Explain Our Universe’s Mysterious Quasars
“In a theoretical study published in March of this year, a fascinating mechanism for producing direct collapse black holes from a mechanism like this was introduced. A young, luminous galaxy could irradiate a nearby partner, which prevents the gas within it from fragmenting to form tiny clumps. Normally, it’s the tiny clumps that collapse into individual stars, but if you fail to form those clumps, you instead can just get a monolithic collapse of a huge amount of gas into a single bound structure. Gravitation then does its thing, and your net result could be a black hole over 100,000 times as massive as our Sun, perhaps even all the way up to 1,000,000 solar masses.”
Some of the most distant, luminous objects in our entire Universe, quasars, are a mystery. How does our Universe get an active, supermassive black hole that forms so early, especially given how relatively small the stars that make black holes are known to be? Even given the earliest, most massive stars that can theoretically form, you’d only expect seed black holes of a few hundred solar masses, yet these early quasars have almost a billion Suns worth of mass to begin with. You’d need a seed 1,000 times as massive to get there. Well, that’s exactly what the scenario known as ‘direct collapse’ could get you. If a massive galaxy is close by another cloud of gas, it can suppress the formation of stars all while that cloud collapses, potentially leading to a black hole directly, without any stars. That black hole could be up to a million solar masses, providing a path to the earliest quasars with no further hitches. With the technology coming online in the next few years, we might yet see this process in action for the first time.