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Astronomers can’t figure out why some black holes got so big so fast

These behemoths defy expectations of how quickly black holes feed

By
7:00am, March 16, 2018
supermassive black hole illustration

TOO BIG, TOO SOON  Supermassive black holes that are actively feeding on gas and dust, like the one shown in this artist’s rendition, have been spotted in the early universe — before they should have had time to grow.

The existence of supermassive black holes in the early universe has never made much sense to astronomers. Sightings since 2006 have shown that gargantuan monsters with masses of at least a billion suns were already in place when the universe was less than a billion years old – far too early for them to have formed by conventional means.

One or two of these old massive objects could be dismissed as freaks, says theoretical astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan of Yale University. But to date, astronomers have spotted more than 100 supermassive black holes that existed before the universe was 950 million years old. “They’re too numerous to be freaks now,” she says. “You have to have a natural explanation for how these things came to be.”

The usual hypotheses are that these black holes were either born unexpectedly big, or grew up fast. But recent finds are challenging even those theories and may force astronomers to rethink how these black

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