Paul M. Sutter is an astrophysicist in SUNNY Stony Brook and the Flatiron Institute, host of Ask the astronaut and Space radio, and author of How to die in space. He contributed this article to Space.com Expert votes: Opinions and statistics.
Astronomers do not understand the origin of the largest black holes in the universe. These black holes appear so early in cosmological records that we may need to use new physics to explain their appearance.
New research offers an intriguing story of origin: the first black holes did not come from stars, but from piles of super-exotic, super-hypothetical particles known as gravitino, which managed to survive the first chaotic years of the big Bang.
The universe: The big bang so far in 1
A little too great
There are black holes, and then there are big black holes. The largest black holes in the universe, aptly named “supermassive black holes” (SMBH), sit at the centers of almost every galaxy in space. Even Milky Way there is one, a monster with 4 million solar masses, designated Sagittarius A *.
The giant black holes in the modern universe are a really great sight, but in the last decade astronomers have discovered the existence of supermassive black holes at the dawn of the stars and galaxieswhen the universe was not yet a billion years old.
This is strange.
It’s strange, because as far as we know, the only way to form black holes is the death of massive stars. When they die, they leave behind a black hole several times more massive than the sun. To reach supergiant status, they must merge with other black holes and / or consume as much gas as possible, accumulating all these millions of solar masses.
And that takes time. A lot of time.
In the early universe, the stars themselves took hundreds of millions of years to appear for the first time. And as far as we can tell, right up to that first generation were stars and galaxies supermassive black holes. There didn’t seem to be enough time to form those giant black holes on the usual and usual stellar path of death, so there’s something fishy.
Either we don’t understand something fundamental about the astrophysics of black hole growth (which is entirely possible), or the first giant black holes actually formed in a much earlier, much more primitive era. But for that to happen, the physics that created these possible first black holes must be … weird.
Images: Black holes of the universe
The twin of gravity
How strange? Well, so strange that it goes far, far beyond the current limits of familiar physics. Fortunately, theoretical physicists are working hard every day to go far, far beyond the current boundaries of familiar physics. One such example is called supersymmetry, and this is an attempt by physicists to both explain some of the interior of the particle world and to predict the existence of brand new particles.
In supersymmetry every particle of Standard model (the name given to our best understanding of the subatomic sphere) is paired with a partner. The reason for this pairing is a fundamental symmetry found deep in mathematics that can describe nature. But this symmetry is broken (through the machinations of some complex mechanisms), so the particles of partner supersymmetry do not just float around the world or make large entrances into our particles.
Instead, due to the broken symmetry, the partner particles are forced to have incredible masses so high that they can only appear in the most energetic reactions in the universe. So far, we have not found evidence of supersymmetric partner particles in our collider experiments, but we are still looking.
As the search continues, theorists spend their time playing with the different patterns and possibilities of supersymmetry. And in one version there is a particle known as gravity. Gravity is the supersymmetric partner particle of the graviton, which in itself is the hypothetical particle that carries the force of gravity.
If you start to worry that all this sounds too hypothetical, everything is fine. The existence of gravitino is highly speculative and is not based on existing evidence. But, as we will soon see, some models of gravitino impregnate them with some very special properties that make them ripe for sowing the formation of black holes.
Putting on the glove
If you want to make some black holes in the early universe, you have to go through several challenges. Long before the first stars and galaxies appeared, our universe was dominated by radiation: high-energy light flooded space, traversing the issue and generally telling everyone what to do.
If you want to create a few random black holes in that radiation-dominated era, you have to do it fast, because this era in our universe was extremely chaotic. And once you form the black holes, you have to keep them alive. Black holes evaporate through a quantum mechanical process known as Hawking radiation, and small black holes (say, those formed by some exotic subatomic process) can quickly disappear before they get a chance at greatness, let alone supermassiveness.
Enter gravity or at least one version of this hypothetical particle. According to a a research paper published recently in the prepress journal arXiv, the high-energy early universe could have exactly the right conditions to populate the universe with gravity. Due to their unique properties (especially their ability to attract quickly by gravity), they can quickly form microscopic black holes.
Over time in the early universe, black holes can become large enough to enjoy ambient radiation before succumbing to Hawking evaporation. Once the radiation is cleared, they can be large enough to continue to collect matter through normal astrophysical processes, providing seeds for the first giant black holes.
The idea is far away, but when it comes to the early universe, it’s the best we have.
Read more: “Supermassive gravities and giant primary black holes“
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