Though they were quite vulturous, early supermassive black holes had some standards, apparently. The researchers found that the neighboring galaxy supplying the radiation had to be certain size and distance away from the black hole’s host galaxy—though these cosmic energy sources could be smaller and closer galaxies than other studies estimated.


“The nearby galaxy can’t be too close, or too far away, and like the Goldilocks principle, too hot or too cold,” study co-author John Wise, an associate astrophysics professor at Georgia Tech, said. Having that perfectly sized galaxy is what can cause supermassive black holes to grow so rapidly—relatively speaking, of course.

By understanding how ancient black holes could have formed, we can get a better sense of what the universe was like long before our solar system existed. The team is already planning to follow up this research with a study on how the merging of millions of black holes and stars could have formed ancient giants.

“Understanding how supermassive black holes form tells us how galaxies, including our own, form and evolve, and ultimately, tells us more about the universe in which we live,” lead author John Regan, a postdoctoral researcher Dublin City University, said.

[Nature Astronomy]