Massive Black Hole Quasar Is The Farthest Ever Discovered

Image Robin Dienel courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science

Image Robin Dienel courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science

The object, surrounded by a bright disc of gas and dust known as a quasar, is the most distant black hole to be found, said Tom Geballe, an astronomer at Gemini Observatory. "Gathering all this mass in fewer than 690 million years is an enormous challenge for theories of supermassive black hole growth", said Eduardo Bañados, the Carnegie scientist who spotted it.

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. 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.

Geballe said the research team led by Eduardo Banados, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science, initially tried to measure the black hole's mass with a telescope in Arizona, but atmospheric conditions proved too hard. According to experts, in connection with the displacement of the black hole one sees as it was 13 billion years ago.

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Quasars could be detected from the farthest corners of the world as they are the most distant objects known. "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". For instance, at nearly a billion solar masses, the quasar's central black hole is comparatively massive.

Some hundreds of millions of years later, the energetic ultraviolet radiation of the first stars and the accretion disks of the first black holes reionized almost all of the hydrogen in the universe, separating the electrons from the hydrogen nuclei (protons).

"What we have found is that the universe was about 50/50 - it's a moment when the first galaxies emerged from their cocoons of neutral gas and started to shine their way out", says MIT's Robert Simcoe, co-author of the study. In this black hole of extremely high mass, and given that the universe is quite young, it simply should not exist.

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"The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big". "We think we know how black holes form and how they eat material". During its early stage, the universe went through what is sometimes called the Dark Age - not a metaphor, as it is for the human period, but a truly a dark age as there was no light. After gravity condensed matter, the first stars and galaxies were formed. They extrapolated from that to estimate that the universe as a whole was likely about half neutral and half ionized at the time they observed the quasar.

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. That means that the black hole quasar was formed exactly during that reionization phase after the Big Bang event.

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