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The effect of baryonic streaming motions on the formation of the first supermassive black holes

Oct 31, 2013

Observations of quasars at redshifts z ≳ 6 reveal that 109 M&sun; supermassive black holes (SMBHs) had already formed when the Universe was ≲ 0.9 Gyr old.

One hypothesis for the origins of these SMBHs is that they grew from the remnants of the first generation of massive stars, which formed in low-mass ( ˜ 105-106 M&sun;) dark matter minihaloes at z ≳ 20. This is the regime where baryonic streaming motions - the relative velocities of baryons with respect to dark matter in the early Universe - most strongly inhibit star formation by suppressing gas infall and cooling. We investigate the impact of this effect on the growth of the first SMBHs using a suite of high-fidelity, ellipsoidal-collapse Monte Carlo merger-tree simulations. We find that the suppression of seed BH formation by the streaming motions significantly reduces the number density of the most massive BHs at z > 15, but the residual effect at lower redshifts is essentially negligible. The streaming motions can reduce by a factor of few the number density of the most luminous quasars at z ≈ 10-11, where such objects could be detected by the James Webb Space Telescope. We conclude, with minor theoretical caveats, that baryonic streaming motions are unlikely to pose a significant additional obstacle to the formation of the observed high-redshift quasar SMBHs. Nor do they appreciably affect the heating and reionization histories of the Universe or the merger rates of nuclear BHs in the mass and redshift ranges of interest for proposed gravitational-wave detectors.