Exactly how supermassive black holes came to form in the early universe has long remained something of a conundrum for scientists – how did they manage to grow so quickly following the formation of the cosmos and where did they get such huge quantities of matter to feed upon ?
Now astronomers have discovered something that could help to answer some of these questions – six galaxies situated around a supermassive black hole around 900 million years after the Big Bang.
The scene is itself contained within a gas cloud some 300 times the diameter of the Milky Way.
It is now believed that the six galaxies and the supermassive black hole (dubbed SDSS J1030+0524) were likely feeding on the surrounding gas which consists of a tangled knot of cosmic web filaments.
“The cosmic web filaments are like spider’s web threads,” said study lead author Marco Mignoli.
“The galaxies stand and grow where the filaments cross, and streams of gas – available to fuel both the galaxies and the central supermassive black hole – can flow along the filaments.”
Scientists believe that there could also be other galaxies in the vicinity that are too faint to see.
“We believe we have just seen the tip of the iceberg, and that the few galaxies discovered so far around this supermassive black hole are only the brightest ones,” said study co-author Barbara Balmaverde.