Super big black hole from early universe farthest ever found

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Astronomers have found the oldest supermassive black hole ever discovered.

The monster black hole looks to be about 800 million times as massive as our sun, and astronomers can't understand how such a behemoth could have already formed just 690 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was just 5 percent of its current age.

Besides revealing a mystery about black hole formation, the new discovery sheds more light (so to speak) on when the first stars formed in the universe.

Venemans Bram of the Max Planck Institute and an author on the paper says it's likely the early universe favored the formation of massive, unstable stars that exploded after a few million years, producing metals more rapidly than our present universe. He was stunned. With a whopping mass, 800 times larger than that of our Sun, the black hole is nearly as old as the world itself. Astronomers have found a quasar - an active supermassive black hole - that is so distant, and thus so far back in time, that it challenges their models of how these gargantuan objects form.

At a distance of about 13 billion lightyears, the most distant supermassive black hole known so far has been spotted by an global team of astronomers. It's the oldest and most distant object we've ever seen.

"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.


But at a time when stars were just starting to light up, they wouldn't have had the time and mass to form such a black hole. It took another 13 billion years to reach the earth, the researchers found.

A newly discovered quasar, known as J1342+0928, is now challenging that idea, though.

"Here we see this thing that's very bright coming from very early in the universe", Simcoe said.

"It's a moment when the first galaxies emerged from their cocoons of neutral gas and started to shine their way out", Simcoe said.

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.

The universe started in a hot soup of particles that quickly scattered in the period called inflation. But the universe remained dark, without any luminous sources until the gravity created the first stars and galaxies that corresponds to our period. In this approach, collapsing clouds in the early universe gave birth to overgrown baby black holes that weighed thousands or tens of thousands of solar masses. Follow-up observations, as well as a search for similar quasars, are on track to put our picture of early cosmic history onto a solid footing. That means that the black hole quasar was formed exactly during that reionization phase after the Big Bang event.

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