Chandra Deep Field South
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/U.Hawaii/E.Treister et al; Infrared: NASA/STScI/UC Santa Cruz/G.Illingworth et al; Optical: NASA/STScI/S.Beckwith et al

The Beginning of the End of Time

When did the first monster black holes form? This fundamental question might seem impossible to answer, but the combination of two of NASA's Great Observatories have helped us get part of the way there. Black holes are sources of powerful X-ray radiation; so by staring at a postage-stamp spot of the sky for an incredible 46 hours with the Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers hoped to detect the X-ray signals from some of the first black holes in the Universe. To identify these X-ray sources as black holes, the Chandra data were combined with a deep pointing at the same region with the Hubble Space Telescope. Careful analysis of the X-ray and optical data (shown in the composite image above) reveal some startling news: there were apparently at least 30 million black holes in existence before the Universe was a billion years old, a factor of 10,000 larger than the estimated number of quasars in the early Universe. Where did they come from? No one yet knows the answer. As Einstein noted, time stops at the edge of a black hole. Interesting to think that the end of time came so soon after the start.
Published: June 20, 2011

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Sunday, 26-Jun-2011 22:09:39 EDT