mountain profile Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii

UH Astronomer Finds Giant Galaxy Hosting the Most Distant Supermassive Black Hole

Maintained by LG

For immediate release
September 1, 2009


Dr. Tomotsugu Goto (JSPS SPD fellow, University of Hawaii)
Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii
2680 Woodlawn Drive, Honolulu, HI, 96822
Tel:+1-(808)-956-0982 Cell:+1-(808)-255-6301, Fax:+1-(808)-956-2901

Dr. Yousuke Utsumi
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies/National Astronomy Observatory of Japan
2-21-1 Osawa, Mitaka, Tokyo, 181-8588, Japan

Mrs. Karen Rehbock
Assistant to the Director
Institute for Astronomy
University of Hawaii at Manoa


High-Resolution Images




link to Japanese lanugage version
Figure 1
Figure 1: False-color image of the QSO (CFHQSJ2329-0301), the most distant black hole currently known. In addition to the bright central black hole (white), the image shows the surrounding host galaxy (red). (Tomotsugu Goto, University of Hawaii)

University of Hawaii astronomer Dr. Tomotsugu Goto and colleagues have discovered a giant galaxy surrounding the most distant black hole ever found. The galaxy, which is 12.8 billion light-years from Earth, is as large as the Milky Way galaxy and harbors a supermassive black hole that contains at least a billion times as much matter as does our sun.

Dr. Goto stated, “It is surprising that such a giant galaxy existed when the Universe was only one-sixteenth of its present age, and that it hosted a black hole one billion times more massive than the sun. The galaxy and black hole must have formed very rapidly in the early universe.”

Knowledge of the host galaxies of supermassive black holes is important in order to understand the long-standing mystery of how galaxies and black holes have evolved together. Until now, studying host galaxies in the distant universe has been extremely difficult because the blinding bright light from the vicinity of the black hole makes it more difficult to see the already faint light from the host galaxy.

Unlike smaller black holes, which form when a large star dies, the origin of supermassive black holes remains an unsolved problem. A currently favored model requires several intermediate black holes to merge. The host galaxy discovered in this work provides a reservoir of such intermediate black holes. After forming, supermassive black holes often continue to grow because their gravity draws in matter from surrounding objects. The energy released in this process accounts for the bright light that these black holes produce.

Figure 2

Figure 2: After a careful subtraction of the central light from the black hole, the residual on the right panel shows a significant detection of the host galaxy (16 sigma). The structure extends 4 arcseconds on the sky, or 22 kpc (72,000 light-years), at z = 6.43. (Tomotsugu Goto, University of Hawaii)

To see the supermassive black hole, the team of scientists used new red-sensitive CCDs installed in the Suprime-Cam camera on the Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea. Prof. Satoshi Miyazaki of the National Astronomy Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) is lead investigator for the creation of the new CCDs and a collaborator on this project. He said, “The improved sensitivity of the new CCDs has brought an exciting discovery as its very first result.”

A careful analysis of the colors revealed that 40 percent of light around 9100 Å is from the host galaxy itself and 60 percent is from the surrounding ionized nebulae illuminated by the black hole. Dr. Yousuke Utsumi (Graduate University for Advanced Studies/NAOJ), a member of the project team, said, “We have witnessed a supermassive black hole and its host galaxy forming together. This discovery has opened a new window for investigating galaxy-black hole co-evolution at the dawn of the universe.”

Dr. Goto is a fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). He received his PhD from the University of Tokyo in 2003 and has also worked at Carnegie Mellon and Johns Hopkins universities, and at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, a part of JAXA, the Japanese equivalent of NASA. He came to the UH Institute for Astronomy in 2008 to work with Dr. David Sanders on quasi-stellar objects (QSOs) and luminous infrared galaxies.

Other members of the research team are Hisanori Furusawa (NAOJ) and Yutaka Komiyama (NAOJ).

This research will be published in the online version of the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society this month. The paper is available at


Object Name: CFHQSJ2329-0301

Distance and Redshift: Due to the expansion of the universe, light from distant objects are stretched and shifted to longer wavelengths. The redshift of the host galaxy is 6.43, which corresponds to a distance of 12.8 billion light-years. The universe itself is thought to be 13.7 billion years old.

Light from Black Holes: Black holes cannot be seen directly because they are so dense that light cannot escape from their gravitational pull. However, matter falling into a black hole heats up from friction as it swirls around the event horizon of the black hole at great speeds. The hot material radiates strongly in ultraviolet and visible light.

Calculating the Black Hole Mass: The maximum amount of light emitted by matter falling into a black hole depends on the mass of the black hole. If the matter is falling into the black hole in a spherically symmetrical shell, this maximum brightness can be calculated. This brightness is called the Eddington luminosity. By assuming that the quasar's brightness  is equivalent to the Eddington luminosity, researchers can estimate the mass of the black hole.

Quasi-Stellar Object (QSO): A distant object that looks like a star.

Founded in 1967, the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa conducts research into galaxies, cosmology, stars, planets, and the sun. Its faculty and staff are also involved in astronomy education, deep space missions, and in the development and management of the observatories on Haleakala and Mauna Kea.

Established in 1907 and fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the University of Hawaii is the state's sole public system of higher education. The UH System provides an array of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees and community programs on 10 campuses and through educational, training, and research centers across the state. UH enrolls more than 50,000 students from Hawaii, the U.S. mainland, and around the world.