Supermassive black holes are thought to inhabit the centers of the Milky Way and almost all large galaxies. Now, using NASA’s Great Observatories (Hubble, Chandra, and Spitzer), a team of astronomers from Scuola Normale Superiore, in Italy, believe they have found evidence of “cosmic seeds” in the early universe that grow into such huge black holes. In particular, they have identified two likely seeds from less than a billion years after the Big Bang that appear to have formed directly from the collapse of clouds of gas, rather than resulting from a multibillion-year process involving the formation and ultimate collapse of large stars into black holes that grow by merger (with other black holes) and acquisition (absorption of matter that cannot escape their gravitational pull).

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