The first black holes in space may have formed a lot earlier than most scientists have assumed, dating back to when the first galaxies began to collide following the Big Bang.
Writing in the journal Nature Ohio State University astronomer Stelios Kazantzidis and his co-authors describe a computer simulation they used to date the appearance of super-massive black holes, a finding that challenges the generally accepted theory of galaxy formation. The hierarchical view is that they developed as gravity attracted bits of matter which eventually came together to form larger structures.
Black holes are objects in which the pull of gravity is so strong that nothing can escape. But the problem with the earlier published ideas about the formation of supermassive black holes had to do with fact that observations of distant quasars showed them to be already in place less than a billion years after the Big Bang.
"Together with these other discoveries, our result shows that big structures -- both galaxies and massive black holes -- build up quickly in the history of the universe," Kazantzidis said in a statement. "Amazingly, this is contrary to hierarchical structure formation."
The universe is generally thought to be about 14 billion years old, so black holes would have begun to appear within the first billion years, according to this theory.
Kazantzidis said the implications for cosmology may include a revision of the idea that a galaxy's properties and the mass of its central black hole are related because the two grow in parallel. "In our model," he says, "the black hole grows much faster than the galaxy. So it could be that the black hole is not regulated at all by the growth of the galaxy. It could be that the galaxy is regulated by the growth of the black hole." .