Yesterday, our paper (free arXiv link), led by John Regan at the Dublin City University, on the formation of massive black holes in the early universe was published in Nature Astronomy. We investigated the “close-pair scenario” where a nearby nascent galaxy shines on a pre-galactic cloud, which destroys most of its molecular hydrogen that is a crucial ingredient in forming stars. Without this catalyst, the gas cloud cannot form stars, but it proceeds to collapse into a single massive black hole without fragmenting into stars. Its mass is on the order of 100,000 times the mass of the Sun.
We simulated both this radiation source and the collapsing gas cloud to find the necessary conditions for such an object to form. We performed tens of simulations investigating various separations, orbital parameters, and galaxy luminosities. We found that a particular set of conditions, such as distance and synchronization of the onset of the formation of the first stars and galaxies, are needed to prompt this pathway toward forming supermassive black holes (one billion times the mass of our Sun!) observed only a billion years after the Big Bang.