A handout photo made available by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on 19 December 2019 shows one of the gas halos newly observed with the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope superimposed to an older image of a galaxy merger obtained with ALMA.
The large-scale halo of hydrogen gas is shown in blue, while the ALMA data is shown in orange.
The halo is bound to the galaxy, which contains a quasar at its centre.
The faint, glowing hydrogen gas in the halo provides the perfect food source for the supermassive black hole at the centre of the quasar.
The objects in this image are located at redshift 6.2, meaning they are being seen as they were 12.8 billion years ago. While quasars are bright, the gas reservoirs around them are much harder to observe.
But MUSE could detect the faint glow of the hydrogen gas in the halos, allowing astronomers to finally reveal the food stashes that power supermassive black holes in the early Universe.
Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope have observed reservoirs of cool gas around some of the earliest galaxies in the Universe. These gas halos are the perfect food for supermassive black holes at the centre of these galaxies, which are now seen as they were over 12.5 billion years ago. This food storage might explain how these cosmic monsters grew so fast during a period in the Universe’s history known as the Cosmic Dawn.
“We are now able to demonstrate, for the first time, that primordial galaxies do have enough food in their environments to sustain both the growth of supermassive black holes and vigorous star formation,” says Emanuele Paolo Farina, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, who led the research published today in The Astrophysical Journal. “This adds a fundamental piece to the puzzle that astronomers are building to picture how cosmic structures formed more than 12 billion years ago.”
Via EPA-EFE/ESO/Farina et al. ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Decarli et al.