Will a New Discovery Fast-track Our Understanding of the Origins of Galaxies and Gargantuan Black Holes?


THE DISCOVERY OF MORE THAN 60 QUASARS—stupendously bright regions in the cores of galaxies, powered by gargantuan black holes—is a windfall for astrophysicists probing the early universe. At more than 13 billion light-years away, these quasars rank among the farthest objects ever glimpsed by humans.


The Kavli Foundation recently spoke with three astrophysicists about how this haul of ultra-distant quasars will transform what we know about the early universe.That’s important because they take us way back in time, to the first billion years after the Big Bang, and may help explain how the first galaxies and supermassive black holes arose. Guided by their light, astrophysicist hope to understand how the universe transitioned from a dark, featureless expanse into a rich, starry realm loaded with luminous galaxies.


The participants were:

  • ROBERTO MAIOLINO– is a professor of experimental astrophysics at the Cavendish Laboratory of the University of Cambridge and director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology, Cambridge(KICC). He studies distant quasars to learn about how galaxies and black holes have evolved together throughout cosmic history.
  • LINHUA JIANG– is the Youth Qianren Research Professor at the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics(KIAA) at Peking University. An author of two recent studies that discovered dozens of new and extremely distant quasars, Jiang is interested in how the first galaxies changed the universe hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang. 
  • MARTA VOLONTERI – is research director at the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris. A theorist, she is the principal investigator of the BLACK project, which investigates how supermassive black holes formed and influenced their host galaxies, especially as quasars, in the early universe. 


The following is an edited transcript of their roundtable discussion: