Research

Astronomers Find the Earliest Supermassive Black Hole Ever Discovered

Astronomers Find the Earliest Supermassive Black Hole Ever Discovered

Astronomers have discovered the oldest supermassive black hole that appeared over 690 million years after the Big Bang.

It's not just that the black hole formed during these early times, it's that the universe was undergoing a major shift at that point.

"Quasars are among the brightest and most distant known celestial objects and are crucial to understanding the early universe", says Bram Venemans of the Max Planck Institute, co-author of a study describing the discovery.

The discovery of a massive black hole so early in the universe may give important hints on conditions at that time, which actually lead the huge black holes to form.

The astronomers reportedly plan to keep looking for more distant quasars to understand what was happening in the universe at the time.

The researcher Eduardo Banados of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who led the research published in the journal Nature said that so if the universe was a 50-year-old person, we are seeing a picture of that character when he or she was 2-1/2 years old. By comparison, Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, which is thought to have formed about 13.7 billion years ago, is only 4 million times the mass of the Sun. It's the oldest and most distant object we've ever seen. And it is so far away that we are seeing something that formed when the universe was only five per cent of its current age - something that scientists say shouldn't be able to happen.




The black hole doesn't match up with existing formation models based on what occurred following the Big Bang. "So, the discovery of this object is tantalizing and lends support to this idea of obese starter black hole seeds".

The universe started in a hot soup of particles that quickly scattered in the period called inflation.

"Something is causing gas within the quasar to move around at very high speed, and the only phenomenon we know that achieves such speeds is orbit around a supermassive black hole", Simcoe says.

Being around when the universe was that young puts this supermassive black hole at the cusp of when the universe emerged from its "dark age" - from the time before the first stars formed, to when light began to shine throughout the cosmos. Eventually, gravity condensed matter into the first stars and galaxies, which in turn produced light in the form of photons. The earliest known galaxy discovered by the Hubble space telescope existed 400 million years after the Big Bang, according to NASA's website.

Astronomers have at least two gnawing questions about the first billion years of the universe, an era steeped in literal fog and figurative mystery. 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 researchers used FIRE to determine that a large fraction of the hydrogen surrounding the quasar is neutral.


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