Scientists discover oldest, most distant black hole ever seen

James Marshall
December 7, 2017

Illustrations by Robin Dienel, provided courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

The light from this quasar was emitted 690 million years after the Big Bang, relatively close to the beginning of everything.

Their findings are published by Nature.

"The new quasar is itself one of the first galaxies, and yet it already harbors a behemoth black hole as massive as others in the present-day universe", co-author Xiaohui Fan of the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory said in a statement.

The mass of the black hole is 800 million times that of the sun, the university said, and it sits in the center of a galactic object called a quasar.

According to MIT, black holes grow into supermassive voids as mass slowly accumulates, and this specific black hole should have taken more than 690 million years to come together.

Scientists have just discovered a supermassive black hole that existed surprisingly early in the history of the universe, and the puzzling find is shedding new light on when the first stars blinked on. The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big.

"Quasars are among the brightest and most-distant known celestial objects and are crucial to understanding the early universe", said Bram Venemans, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany. That means the quasar is not only the most distant - it is also the only example we have that can be seen before the universe became reionized. Immediately following the Big Bang, the universe resembled a cosmic soup of hot, extremely energetic particles. As it expanded, it cooled. Eventually, gravity condensed matter into the first stars and galaxies, which in turn produced light in the form of photons.

"This is a very exciting discovery", he said. The ionization of the cosmos' gas allowed light to move more freely through space.

"So there must be another way that it formed", Simcoe said. The observations give us a riveting peek back in time.

After analyzing the quasar, the scientists found a lot of the hydrogen surrounding it is neutral, which suggests that the supermassive black hole formed during the reionization phase after the Big Bang. That light has taken about 13 billion years to reach us - a span of time that is almost equal to the age of the universe.

"This great distance makes such objects extremely faint when viewed from Earth". "The universe is enormous and searching for these very rare objects is like looking for the needle in the haystack".

Banados said the quasar provides a unique baby picture of the universe, when it was just 5 percent of its current age. "What was surprising here was that this one seemed to be fully formed even though the universe was very young at this period in time".

"Withseveral next-generation, even-more-sensitive facilities currentlybeing built, we can expect many exciting discoveries in the very earlyuniverse in the coming years", Stern said.

The black hole was detected by Eduardo Bañados of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who was scouring surveys of the sky to look for ancient objects like this one.

However, black holes that formed in the early universe are different.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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