Colossal distant black hole holds surprises about early universe

This illustration provided by the Carnegie Institution for Science shows the most-distant supermassive black hole ever discovered which is part of a quasar from just 690 million years after the Big Bang. On Wednesday Dec. 6 2017 a team led by the Carn

At the center of a distant galaxy, scientists have found the oldest black hole ever discovered, and it's so weird it's posing some perplexing questions. The universe is an estimated 13.8 billion years, and this black hole appeared just 690 million years after the Big Bang.

It's a truly gargantuan black hole, which is some 800 million times the mass of our sun.

In contrast, some, known as "active" supermassive black holes, or "quasars" (short for "quasi-stellar objects"), are very bright, emitting intense light and radiation as they consume vast quantities of matter. The team thinks that, perhaps, the conditions in the very early universe allowed for massive black holes to form, that started off at 100,000 times more massive than the Sun and then grew from there.

Simcoe and postdoc Monica L. Turner are the MIT co-authors of a paper detailing the results, published today in the journal Nature.

The astronomers announced the most distant and oldest super massive black hole which was not seen even has now been discovered. It's the oldest and most distant object we've ever seen.

"This discovery opens up an exciting new window to understand the early universe", he said in an email from Pasadena, California.

There is one large mystery that remains to be solved: How did a black hole of such massive proportions form so early in the universe's history? For instance, at nearly a billion solar masses, the quasar's central black hole is comparatively massive.


This is very unlikely the black holes that form in the present-day universe, which rarely exceed a few dozen solar masses. That helped scientists estimate that the stars turned on roughly when it began its journey - about 696 million years after the big bang.

"This object provides us with a measurement of the time at which the universe first became illuminated with starlight", said another of the researchers, physics professor Robert Simcoe of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. "But it's pretty hard to get that kind of a mass that early in the universe".

Much bigger black holes are out there, but none so far away - at least among those found so far.

Artist's impression of a quasar, an active supermassive black hole with a very high luminosity.

"This is the only object we have observed from this era", says Simcoe. As the universe expanded in size, those particles cooled down, and as they did they formed into a neutral hydrogen gas during which it was completely dark. Although the galaxy can be no more than 690 million years old, it has already formed an enormous amount of dust, and heavy chemical elements.

The newly-discovered black hole is part of a quasar, meaning it sits at the center of a cloud of gas that it's slowly swallowing. Astronomers believe that the black hole was formed in a universe which was about half neutral and half ionized.

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