The Origin of Supermassive Black Holes

Amy Reines

Assistant Professor, Department of Physics

Montana State University

The origin of supermassive black holes remains a major outstanding issue in modern astrophysics. These monster black holes reside in the nuclei of essentially every massive galaxy and power the most luminous quasars at the edge of the observable Universe. However, directly observing the first “seed” black holes in the early Universe - that can eventually grow to upwards of a billion solar masses - is not feasible with current telescopes. Present-day dwarf galaxies, on the other hand, are within observational reach and offer another avenue to learn about black hole seeds since low-mass galaxies can host relatively pristine black holes.  

In this talk, Dr. Reines will highlight some of her achievements in this field that have taken us from a few rare examples to large systematically-assembled samples of dwarf galaxies hosting nuclear black holes. She will also discuss how her work has implications for directly detecting black hole activity in the first galaxies at high redshift. Finally, she will describe some of her future plans to probe the origin of supermassive black holes with dwarf galaxies, and provide the much needed observational constraints on the otherwise theory-dominated work on the formation of the first black hole seeds.