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In recent years, the discovery of massive quasars at $z\sim7$ has provided a striking challenge to our understanding of the origin and growth of supermassive black holes in the early Universe. Mounting observational and theoretical evidence indicates the viability of massive seeds, formed by the collapse of supermassive stars, as a progenitor model for such early, massive accreting black holes. Although considerable progress has been made in our theoretical understanding, many questions remain regarding how (and how often) such objects may form, how they live and die, and how next generation observatories may yield new insight into the origin of these primordial titans. This review focusses on our present understanding of this remarkable formation scenario, based on the discussions held at the Monash Prato Centre from November 20 to 24, 2017, during the workshop ‘Titans of the Early Universe: The Origin of the First Supermassive Black Holes’.
The formation of the first stars out of metal-free gas appears to result in stars at least an order of magnitude more massive than in the present-day case. We here consider what controls the transition from a primordial to a modern initial mass function. We study the influence of low levels of metal enrichment and different initial conditions on the cooling and collapse of initially ionized gas in small protogalactic halos using three-dimensional, smoothed particle hydrodynamics simulations. We argue that fragmentation at moderate density depends on the initial conditions for star formation more than on the metal abundances present.
We discuss results from numerical simulations of star cluster formation in the turbulent interstellar medium (ISM). The thermodynamic behavior of the star-forming gas plays a crucial role in fragmentation and determines the stellar mass function as well as the dynamic properties of the nascent stellar cluster. This holds for star formation in molecular clouds in the solar neighborhood as well as for the formation of the very first stars in the early universe. The thermodynamic state of the ISM is a result of the balance between heating and cooling processes, which in turn are determined by atomic and molecular physics and by chemical abundances. Features in the effective equation of state of the gas, such as a transition from a cooling to a heating regime, define a characteristic mass scale for fragmentation and so set the peak of the initial mass function of stars (IMF). As it is based on fundamental physical quantities and constants, this is an attractive approach to explain the apparent universality of the IMF in the solar neighborhood as well as the transition from purely primordial high-mass star formation to the more normal low-mass mode observed today.
In cold dark matter cosmological models, the first stars to form are believed to do so within small protogalaxies. We study the influence of low levels of metal enrichment on the cooling and collapse of ionized gas in these protogalactic halos using three-dimensional, smoothed particle hydrodynamics simulations.
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