For many years, astronomers have attempted to explain what causes supermassive black holes to grow into their massive sizes very rapidly, suggesting that these cosmic giants could have been the result of black holes absorbing gas from surrounding areas or the product after black holes merge. Now, new evidence from Italian researchers reveals that supermassive black holes can form directly from the collapse of a gigantic gas cloud.

When the cloud of gas collapses, black hole seeds take form, weighing 100,000 times the mass of the sun and eventually grow into supermassive black holes. The seeds’ massive size suggests that black holes were not born small and expands at a very quick rate as previously believed.

“There is a lot of controversy over which path these black holes take,” points out the study’s co-author Andrea Ferrara from the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy. “Our work suggests we are converging on one answer, where black holes start big and grow at the normal rate, rather than starting small and growing at a very fast rate.”

supermassive black holes

This artist’s impression shows a possible seed for the formation of a supermassive black hole. Two of these possible seeds were discovered by an Italian team, using three space telescopes: the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope. Credits: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss

These findings were published online on March 28 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS). It entailed utilising computer models to analyse data collected from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope.

“Black hole seeds are extremely hard to find and confirming their detection is very difficult,” adds the study’s co-author Andrea Grazian from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy. “However, we think our research has uncovered the two best candidates so far.”

The research team maintains that more investigations are still required to gather more information about these black hole seeds. Moreover, they are presently devising another study in X-rays and in the infrared range to understand the properties of black hole seeds.