Black Holes or Galaxies: Which Came First?

One of the most intriguing questions in astrophysics is how the first stars and galaxies formed in the dark and dense early universe. A new analysis of data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) suggests that black holes not only existed at the dawn of time, but they also gave birth to new stars and accelerated the formation of galaxies .

The Surprising Role of Black Holes

Black holes are regions in space where gravity is so strong that nothing can escape their pull, not even light. Because of this force, they generate powerful magnetic fields that make violent storms, ejecting turbulent plasma and ultimately acting like enormous particle accelerators.

Conventional wisdom holds that black holes formed after the collapse of supermassive stars and that galaxies formed after the first stars lit up the dark early universe. But the analysis by a team led by Joseph Silk, a professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University and at Institut of Astrophysics, Paris, Sorbonne University, suggests that black holes and galaxies coexisted and influenced each other’s fate during the first 100 million years.

Distant galaxies from the very early universe, observed through the JWST, appear much brighter than scientists predicted and reveal unusually high numbers of young stars and supermassive black holes .

“We know these monster black holes exist at the center of galaxies near our Milky Way, but the big surprise now is that they were present at the beginning of the universe as well and were almost like building blocks or seeds for early galaxies,” Silk said. “They really boosted everything, like gigantic amplifiers of star formation, which is a whole turnaround of what we thought possible before—so much so that this could completely shake up our understanding of how galaxies form.”

How Black Holes Made Stars

The team argues that black hole outflows crushed gas clouds, turning them into stars and greatly accelerating the rate of star formation. This process could explain why some of the earliest galaxies were much brighter and more massive than expected.

“Otherwise, it’s very hard to understand where these bright galaxies came from because they’re typically smaller in the early universe. Why on earth should they be making stars so rapidly?” Silk said.

The team’s findings challenge the classical understanding of how black holes shape the cosmos and open new possibilities for exploring the relationship between black holes and galaxies in the early universe.

“This is a whole new way of looking at how black holes affect their environment,” Silk said. “We’re seeing something that we never thought possible before.”

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