The most distant and oldest supermassive black hole ever seen has been discovered, astronomers announced in a study published Wednesday. The black hole sits in the center of an ultrabright quasar, the light of which was emitted just 690 million years after the Big Bang.
Quasars, energized by gases spiraling at high speeds into an enormous black hole, are known to inhabit the center of certain galaxies, sometimes outshining all the stars in those galaxies.
Finding such a large black hole existing so early in the universe's history surprised the researchers.
The black hole is even more puzzling because of what was happening in the universe at that time.
An worldwide team of scientists worked on this study, which has been published in Nature, and discovered the farthest and likely the earliest black hole quasar ever. According to experts, in connection with the displacement of the black hole one sees as it was 13 billion years ago.
"This adds to our understanding of our universe at large because we've identified that moment of time when the universe is in the middle of this very rapid transition from neutral to ionized", Simcoe says.
Quasars are powered by supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies - in this case, a black hole with nearly a billion times the mass of the Sun. Scientists have now found a super-sized black hole.
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But, the black holes which formed during the universe's "early days" are different because, in theory, they couldn't have formed from the collapse of a huge star as the timelines don't match, as there was not enough time for the star to be born and live long enough to collapse to become a black hole. "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".
The astronomer who found the unusual black hole said that there's no way of explaining how a black hole would be able to pick up such mass, and that it might challenge out current understandings of how black holes form.
Before, scientists thought that if there were black holes that formed soon after the Big Bang, there would need to be certain conditions which would allow the supermassive black hole to be born.
"It's a moment when the first galaxies emerged from their cocoons of neutral gas and started to shine their way out", Simcoe said. After gravity condensed matter, the first stars and galaxies were formed.
Distant quasars are valuable sources of information about the early universe. It's part of a long-term search for the earliest quasars, which will continue. At some point, the radiation released by material as it falls into the black hole carries out so much momentum that it blocks new gas from falling in and disrupts the flow.