Rapid growth of black holes in massive star-forming galaxies

Abstract

The tight relationship between the masses of black holes and galaxy spheroids in nearby galaxies1 implies a causal connection between the growth of these two components. Optically luminous quasars host the most prodigious accreting black holes in the Universe, and can account for 30 per cent of the total cosmological black-hole growth2,3. As typical quasars are not, however, undergoing intense star formation and already host massive black holes (> 108M, where M is the solar mass)4,5, there must have been an earlier pre-quasar phase when these black holes grew (mass range (106–108)M). The likely signature of this earlier stage is simultaneous black-hole growth and star formation in distant (redshift z > 1; >8 billion light years away) luminous galaxies. Here we report ultra-deep X-ray observations of distant star-forming galaxies that are bright at submillimetre wavelengths. We find that the black holes in these galaxies are growing almost continuously throughout periods of intense star formation. This activity appears to be more tightly associated with these galaxies than any other coeval galaxy populations. We show that the black-hole growth from these galaxies is consistent with that expected for the pre-quasar phase.

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Figure 1: Black-hole mass accretion rates.
Figure 2: Cosmological black-hole accretion density.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to R. McLure, M. Page, F. Shankar and Q. Yu for providing data and scientific insight. We thank the Royal Society (D.M.A., I.S.), PPARC (F.E.B.) and NASA (S.C.C., W.N.B.) for support. Data presented here were obtained using the W.M. Keck Observatory, which is operated as a scientific partnership among Caltech, the University of California and NASA.

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Correspondence to D. M. Alexander.

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Alexander, D., Smail, I., Bauer, F. et al. Rapid growth of black holes in massive star-forming galaxies. Nature 434, 738–740 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03473

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