August 7, 2023 | David F. Coppedge

Black Hole Count Rises, Compounding Cosmology’s Lumps

The lumpiness problem has just been multiplied tenfold.
JWST finds numerous large early black holes.

 

Early Black Holes

‘It’s a dream’: JWST spies more black holes than astronomers predicted (Nature News, 3 Aug 2023). Reporter Alexandra Witze opens the latest can of worms in cosmology. How will the big bang consensus deal with ten times more black holes at the beginning of the universe than previously observed?

Last August, astrophysicist Dale Kocevski posted a paper to the arXiv preprint server with some preliminary data on what the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was discovering about black holes in one of its surveys of the Universe. The article, now formally reviewed and published, did not predict that JWST would bring revolutionary insight into the enigmatic celestial objects. “And that was proven completely wrong,” says Kocevski, who is based at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

The revolutionary insight this week is the unexpected count of black holes that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has observed—not directly, because black holes are invisible—but indirectly through the temperatures and motions of gas around their centers. The post-mortem excuses for the failure have already started.

Black holes come in several sizes, but the ones JWST has been detecting are massive ones that weigh millions to billions times as much as the Sun. Astronomers aren’t sure how these black holes form, but it might involve massive stars or gas clouds collapsing and then beginning to draw in nearby gas and dust. In this scenario, these black-hole ‘seeds’ would grow rapidly, until they become gravitational maws that lurk at the heart of most galaxies.

The ‘scenario’ is hard to take seriously, when big bang cosmologists expected matter to clump slowly and gradually. Black holes are the most dense objects in the universe—collapsing the mass of billions of suns into a singularity. Some of the black holes mentioned in Witze’s report had to have formed 400 million to 570 million years after the big bang, in just the first 3% of the assumed cosmic timeline.

So far, JWST has discovered roughly ten times as many faint black holes at these intermediate redshifts than would be expected on the basis of the number of black holes previously known. Why that is “we don’t understand yet”, says Kohei Inayoshi, an astrophysicist at Peking University in Beijing.

One Italian astrophysicist claims she has a model that explains how this is possible—provided scientists go back to the drawing board. Notice the big “if” in her scenario:

Such distant JWST discoveries fit with recent simulations of the birth of early black holes, says Raffaella Schneider, an astrophysicist at the Sapienza University of Rome. She and her colleagues have found that big black holes can form in the early Universe if they gobble gas at incredibly high rates in their early stages. This would violate the maximum rate at which black holes can grow, according to theory. But JWST observations suggest that some black holes, such as the one in GN-z11, might grow in this way — and that the theory might need revising.

Early Carbon

This was not the only finding from JWST causing headaches for astronomers:

James Webb Space Telescope makes 1st detection of diamond-like carbon dust in the universe’s earliest stars (Space.com, 19 July 2023). Robert Lea says, “The discovery suggests the earliest galaxies formed more quickly after the Big Bang than previously thought.” Previously thought by whom? By the experts, the God-denying Big Bang cosmologists, some of whom believe the whole universe evolved from nothing. Lea says,

The detection of carbon dust so soon after the Big Bang could shake up theories surrounding the chemical evolution of the universe.

It could; maybe it should. Carbon was not supposed to come into existence until the first generation of stars went supernova. Big Bang theory says that only hydrogen and helium existed at first, with a little bit of lithium (the 3 simplest elements).

“The surprising finding here is that we can directly see and learn about the properties of these dust grains at such an early time, and we can tell they’re carbon-based,” research lead author and University of Cambridge scientist Joris Witstok told Space.com. “That’s quite surprising in the context of what we previously expected.

Isn’t science supposed to base its ideas on what can be seen? Not always. In Darwinian biology, observations are fitted into the theory that has become accepted dogmatically prior to new evidence. In old-earth geology, the Geologic Column is a sacred icon before which all observations must bow. Similarly, in cosmology, dogmatic belief in the Big Bang theory comes first. Then observations are fit into it. When the fit is bad, some notice the problem and worry about it, but never to the point of overturning the theory.

The “lumpiness problem” in cosmology has a long history. Non-theistic cosmologists expected a uniform expansion of energy from nothing, taking many hundreds of millions of years to start gathering into clumps. Those clumps became stars of almost pure hydrogen, the theory demands. Heavy elements were only produced after the first stars exploded as supernovas. Then the first stars slowly clumped into galaxies, as additional supernovas increased the ‘metallicity’ of cosmic dust that clumped into massive galaxies. Like so many previous findings, the lesson from actual observations using space telescopes is early maturity.

Everything in science, even astronomy, has followed Darwin’s lead of thinking in slow and gradual terms. Bible believers are not shaken up. Genesis says that God created a mature universe at the beginning, ready to be inhabited.

 

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Categories: Astronomy, Cosmology, Physics

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