Webb detects first merger of two black holes after the big bang

The James Webb Space Telescope detects the location of the ZS7 system in the constellation Sextans
The James Webb Space Telescope detects the location of the ZS7 system in the constellation Sextans. (Image credit: ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, J. Dunlop, D. Magee, P. G. Pérez-González, H. Übler, R. Maiolino, et. al)

The James Webb Space Telescope has detected the very first merger of two black holes after the big bang.

This black hole merger system is known as ZS7, and this merging happened when our universe was only 740 million years old.

Now, the Big Bang happened about 13.8 billion years ago, when everything in our known universe was created. So the age of the black hole merger, ZS7, is about 13 billion years.

As the light from the ZS7 system travels a distance of 13 billion light-years to reach us, it is the most distant black hole merger to date. One light-year is approximately equal to 9 trillion kilometers. That is a 9 with 12 zeros behind it!

Related article: All you need to know about the astronomical unit "light-year" 

The James Webb Space Telescope has detected that the process of merging two galaxies and their black holes is ongoing, as the team has found evidence of very dense gas with fast motions in the vicinity of the black hole.

The team has been able to separate the two black holes and determine their masses with the unprecedented sharpness of Webb.

They have found that the mass of one black hole is 50 million times the mass of our sun, and the mass of the other black hole is likely similar, although it is harder to measure because this second black hole is buried in dense gas.

Previously, astronomers have found supermassive black holes with masses of millions to billions times that of the Sun in the first billion years after the Big Bang. However, astronomers still don’t fully understand how these gargantuan black holes grew so rapidly and became so massive.

So with this new discovery of the James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers suggest that the merger of black holes can be a route to finding a supermassive black hole in the early universe.

The team also said that once the two black holes merge, they will also generate gravitational waves. Gravitational waves are invisible ripples in the fabric of spacetime.

These distant gravitational waves can be detected with the next-generation gravitational wave detector, such as the upcoming Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) mission of the European Space Agency (ESA). LISA is scheduled to launch in 2030 and will be the first space-based observatory dedicated to studying gravitational waves.

A scientific paper has been published on the above findings in the “Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society” on May 16, 2024.

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Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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