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Rapid formation of massive black holes in close proximity to embryonic protogalaxies


The appearance of supermassive black holes at very early times13 in the Universe is a challenge to our understanding of star and black hole formation. The direct-collapse4,5 black hole scenario provides a potential solution. A prerequisite for forming a direct-collapse black hole is that the formation of (much less massive) population III stars be avoided6,7; this can be achieved by destroying H2 by means of Lyman–Werner radiation (photons of energy around 12.6 eV). Here we show that two conditions must be met in the protogalaxy that will host the direct-collapse black hole. First, prior star formation must be delayed; this can be achieved with a background Lyman–Werner flux of JBG 100J21 (J21 is the intensity of background radiation in units of 10−21 erg cm−2 s−1 Hz−1 sr−1). Second, an intense burst of Lyman–Werner radiation from a neighbouring star-bursting protogalaxy is required, just before the gas cloud undergoes gravitational collapse, to suppress star formation completely. Using high-resolution hydrodynamical simulations that include full radiative transfer, we find that these two conditions inevitably move the host protogalaxy onto the isothermal atomic cooling track, without the deleterious effects of either photo-evaporating the gas or polluting it with heavy elements. These atomically cooled, massive protogalaxies are expected ultimately to form a direct-collapse black hole of mass 104−105M.

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Figure 1: Modelling synchronized haloes.
Figure 2: Ray profiles for six selected haloes.
Figure 3: The synchronized halo zone.
Figure 4: Mass inflow rates.


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This work was supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (grant numbers ST/L00075X/1 and RF040365) and by NASA grant NNX15AB19G (to Z.H.). J.R. acknowledges support from the EU Commission via the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant SMARTSTARS, grant number 699941. J.W. is supported by National Science Foundation grants AST-1333360 and AST-1614333, and by Hubble theory grants HST-AR-13895 and HST-AR-14326. P.H.J. acknowledges the support of the Academy of Finland grant 1274931. G.B. acknowledges financial support from NASA grant NNX15AB20G and NSF grant AST-1312888. This work used the DiRAC Data Centric system at Durham University, operated by the Institute for Computational Cosmology on behalf of the STFC DiRAC HPC Facility ( This equipment was funded by BIS National E-infrastructure capital grant ST/K00042X/1, STFC capital grant ST/H008519/1 and STFC DiRAC Operations grant ST/K003267/1, and by Durham University. DiRAC is part of the National E-Infrastructure. Some of the preliminary numerical simulations were also performed on facilities hosted by the CSC-IT Center for Science in Espoo, Finland, which are financed by the Finnish ministry of education. The Flatiron Institute is supported by the Simons Foundation. Z.H. acknowledges support from a Simons Fellowship for Theoretical Physics. The freely available astrophysical analysis code yt and plotting library matplotlib were used to construct numerous plots within this paper. Computations described in this work were performed using the publicly available Enzo code, which is the product of a collaborative effort of many independent scientists from institutions around the world.

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J.A.R. modified the publicly available Enzo code and Grackle codes used in this work, ran and analysed the code results, and wrote the initial manuscript. J.A.R., Z.H., J.H.W. and E.V. determined the simulation set-up. The radiation particle model was conceived and designed by J.A.R., P.H.J. and J.H.W. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the results and to the text of the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to John A. Regan.

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Regan, J., Visbal, E., Wise, J. et al. Rapid formation of massive black holes in close proximity to embryonic protogalaxies. Nat Astron 1, 0075 (2017).

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