What do observations tell us about the highest-redshift supermassive black holes?

Benny Trakhtenbrot*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


I review the current understanding of some key properties of the earliest growing supermassive black holes (SMBHs), as determined from the most up-to-date observations of z ‰2 5 quasars. This includes their accretion rates and growth history, their host galaxies, and the large-scale environments that enabled their emergence less than a billion years after the Big Bang. The available multi-wavelength data show that these SMBHs are consistent with Eddington-limited, radiatively efficient accretion that had to proceed almost continuously since very early epochs. ALMA observations of the hosts' ISM reveal gas-rich, well developed galaxies, with a wide range of SFRs that may exceed 1/41000 M ¯yr-1. Moreover, ALMA uncovers a high fraction of companion, interacting galaxies, separated by < 100 kpc (projected). This supports the idea that the first generation of high-mass, luminous SMBHs grew in over-dense environments, and that major mergers may be important drivers for rapid SMBH and host galaxy growth. Current X-ray surveys cannot access the lower-mass, supposedly more abundant counterparts of these rare z ‰3 5 massive quasars, which should be able to elucidate the earliest stages of BH formation and growth. Such lower-mass nuclear BHs will be the prime targets of the deepest surveys planned for the next generation of facilities, such as the upcoming Athena mission and the future Lynx mission concept.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-275
Number of pages15
JournalProceedings of the International Astronomical Union
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • black hole physics
  • galaxies: active
  • galaxies: high-redshift
  • galaxies: interactions
  • quasars: general


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