Published: Fri, December 08, 2017
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

Astronomers Find the Earliest Supermassive Black Hole Ever Discovered

Astronomers Find the Earliest Supermassive Black Hole Ever Discovered

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).

Still on the lookout, astronomers are uncertain how close they'll get to the actual beginning of time, 13.8 billion years ago.

"And it greatly confused us", says MIT Professor of physics Robert Simcoe. In black holes, gravity has such a strong pull that not even light can escape. That incredible distance means the object dates back to the time when the first stars blinked on, which raises the question of how a black hole that big arose so soon after the universe began.

Around the time of this newest quasar, the universe was emerging from a so-called Dark Ages.

The object was examined using ground-based telescopes in Chile and Hawaii and NASA's orbiting Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. And they measure their size by looking at the brightness of the quasar. 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.

The unexpected discovery relied on data collected from observatories around the world.

To make things even more interesting, this appears to be a supermassive black hole - the most massive known objects in the universe, the likes of which are thought to lie at the center of all galaxies.

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"This black hole grew far larger than we expected in only 690 million years after the Big Bang, which challenges our theories about how black holes form", said study co-author Daniel Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

A newly discovered quasar, known as J1342+0928, is now challenging that idea, though. It's the oldest and most distant object we've ever seen.

In particular, Eduardo investigated quasars are among the brightest astronomical objects that represent supermassive black holes surrounded by bright accretionary discs, which consist of matter.

To allow the formation of such a massive black hole, the very early universe might have had been able to create very large black holes with masses reaching 100,000 times the mass of the sun. According to our current understanding, it should take more than 690 million years for a supermassive black hole to accrue the mass of 800 million Suns, so the researchers suggest there must be another unknown mechanism at work.

"We're talking 690 million years" after the Big Bang, said Gemini spokesman Peter Michaud. "They're rare, but they're very much there, and we need to figure out how they form", said Priyamvada Natarajan, an astrophysicist at Yale University who was not part of the research team.

"What transitions the universe from being neutral to ionized is starlight from the first galaxies", he said.

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