Research

Farthest-ever supermassive black hole reveals the early universe

Farthest-ever supermassive black hole reveals the early universe

Astronomers who found the farthest supermassive black hole say it grew super quickly when the universe was just a newborn, making it a rare and mysterious space object.

"Quasars are among the brightest and most-distant known celestial objects and are crucial to understanding the early universe", said Bram Venemans, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany. As mass falls into the black hole, it forms an accretion disk around the black hole and jets of matter that spew from the black hole.

Quasars are supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies that actively consume gas and dust. "It's very puzzling." Simcoe was a lead author of a paper on the discoveries, published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The black hole formed only 690 million years after the Big Bang - aka, when the universe was just 5 percent of its current age, NPR writes.

"Gathering all this mass in fewer than 690 million years is an enormous challenge for theories of supermassive black hole growth", Eduardo Bañados, an astronomer with the Carnegie Institution for Science, said in a news release.

The astronomer who found the odd 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 first starlight, the universe was dominated by neutral hydrogen atoms.

The researchers estimate the black hole is 800 million times the mass of our sun, which is hard to wrap your mind around.

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Analysis of the newly found quasar shows that a large fraction of the hydrogen in its immediate surroundings is neutral, indicating that the astronomers have identified a source in the epoch of reionisation, before enough of the first stars and galaxies have turned on to fully re-ionise the universe. About 400,000 years after the initial explosion, the primordial soup of high energy particles cooled down to become a neutral hydrogen gas.

"We think of them as being something that's eternal, but really, there was a time when the universe was just dark matter", he said.

Prior to this discovery, the record-holder for the furthest known quasar existed when the Universe was about 800 million years old. Even older examples could be discovered, scientists said. This means that the early universe likely was conducive to the quick formation of supermassive black holes; our current universe isn't, and black holes are generally much smaller.

This relic from the early Universe is busily devouring material at the centre of a galaxy - marking it out as a so-called quasar.

Over to NASA, whose Daniel Stern of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena stoked anticipation: "With several next-generation, even-more-sensitive facilities now being built, we can expect many exciting discoveries in the very early universe in the coming years".


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