Image 1 - Farthest Supermassive Black Hole Rich In Gas And Dust
March 28, 2012

Farthest Supermassive Black Hole Rich In Gas And Dust

Astronomers from the U.K., France and Germany have discovered vast amounts of gas and dust in the galaxy containing the most distant supermassive black hole known to science.

Galaxy J1120+0641 is so far away, that light from it takes over 13 billion years to reach our planet.  This means the light astronomers see from this galaxy is just 740 million years after the Big Bang.

The team used the Institut de Radioastronomie Millimetrique (IRAM) array to make their discovery.  This array is made up of six 50-feet telescopes that can detect emission wavelengths about ten thousand times as long as visible light.

The IRAM telescopes work together to simulate a larger telescope in an interferometer that can study objects in fine detail.

The team of astronomers said they were surprised to see so much carbon in their IRAM observations.

Bram Venemans, of the Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, said it is an indication of how dynamic the early Universe must have been.

"The glow of carbon tells us there are stars being formed, and the dust also tells us that - that there is lots of ultraviolet light [from bright new stars] heating the dust. But the amount of carbon we can derive means a lot of stars must have formed and produced this carbon," he told BBC News.

The supermassive black hole that sits at the center of the galaxy is about two billion times the mass of the Sun.

The team calculated that the galaxy was forming stars at a rate of 100 times seen in the Milky Way Galaxy.

"We found this accreting black hole and you see these metal lines, and that is not too surprising. This is quite a small region of space and you only need a couple of stars to go into the black hole to pollute its signal. But it's the same across the galaxy," Venemans told BBC.

"The presence of so much carbon confirms that massive star formation must have occurred in the short period between the Big Bang and the time we are now observing the galaxy," the Heidelberg researcher said.

The team said that their success was helped by a recent upgrade to IRAM, allowing the scientist to detect the newly discovered gas and dust.

This source is also visible from the southern hemisphere where the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) is currently under construction in Chile.

ALMA will enable scientists to have a detailed study of the structure of this galaxy, including the way the gas and dust moves within it.

“The current observations only provide a glimpse of what ALMA will be capable of when we use it to study the formation of the first generation of galaxies," Richard McMahon, a member of the team from the University of Cambridge in the UK, said in a recent press release.

The related research paper can be found at


Image 1: This image of J1120+0641 (red dot in the center) was created by combining survey data in visual and infrared light of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey. (Credit: ESO/UKIDSS/SDSS).

Image 2: This image shows the bright emission from carbon and dust in a galaxy surrounding the most distant supermassive black hole known. At a distance corresponding to 740 Million years after the Big Bang, the Carbon line, which is emitted by the galaxy at infrared wavelengths (that are unobservable from the ground), is redshifted, because of the expansion of the Universe, to millimeter wavelengths where it can be observed using facilities such as the IRAM Plateau de Bure Interferometer.