Unexpected discovery: Supermassive black hole the most distant ever detected

Unexpected discovery: Supermassive black hole the most distant ever detected

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.

The black hole is measured to be about 800 million times as massive as our sun - a Goliath by modern-day standards and a relative anomaly in the early universe.

Another study author, Robert Simcoe of MIT, said "this is the only object we have observed from this era". "What was surprising here was that this one seemed to be fully formed even though the universe was very young at this period in time". Astronomers are seeing the black hole as it appeared when the universe was only 690 million years old. 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).

As more stars and galaxies filled the void, their radiation began to energize the hydrogen, allowing the electrons bound to the nucleus to recombine and generate other chemical reactions. This shift from neutral to ionized hydrogen represented a fundamental change in the universe that has persisted to this day. "This is the most accurate measurement of that time, and a real indication of when the first stars turned on".

The paper was published online December 6, 2017 in the journal Nature.

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Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA. Explaining how such a massive black hole could have formed in such a comparatively short amount of available time is a challenge for models of supermassive black hole formation, and effectively rules out some of those models.

This is very unlike the black holes that form in the present-day universe, which rarely exceed a few dozen solar masses. They are known to be the driving force behind quasars which are one of the brightest objects in the Universe. FIRE is a spectrometer that classifies objects based on their infrared spectra.

Distant quasars are valuable sources of information about the early universe. The higher an object's redshift, the further away it is, both in space and time. The earliest known galaxy discovered by the Hubble space telescope existed 400 million years after the Big Bang, according to NASA's website.

Quasars are powered by supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies - in this case, a black hole with nearly a billion times the mass of the Sun.

Throughout the time of this newest quasar, the universe was arising from the Dark Ages.

Black holes are the remnants of collapsed stars, with gravity so strong that light itself can't escape. The light of the newly discovered most distant quasar yet carries crucial information regarding one of the earliest phases of the universe, the so-called reionization phase.