Astronomers observe most-distant supermassive black hole yet discovered

Astronomers Find the Earliest Supermassive Black Hole Ever Discovered

"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", Daniel Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, also a coauthor on the paper, said in another statement.

"This is the only object we have observed from this era", said Robert Simcoe, the Francis L. Friedman professor of physics at MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

The most fundamental mystery is just what this black hole "ate" to become so huge.

Astronomers have discovered the oldest supermassive black hole ever found - a behemoth that grew to 800 million times the mass of the sun when the universe was just 5 percent of its current age, a new study finds. Using FIRE, the researchers determined that at the time this quasar began emitting light, the hydrogen gas around it was half neutral and half ionized.

But there's a problem with the finding: the black hole appears to be far too big for its age.

"The moment when the first stars turned on is when our universe filled with light", says Simcoe, who explains that when this light leaked out of the first galaxies, it interacted with the surrounding matter and changed its properties. As more stars formed from the remains of first-generation stars, they became "polluted" with heavier elements and in turn produce even heavier elements when they explode in supernovae.

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The black hole, announced today in the journal Nature, is the most distant ever found. The other lead authors are from the Carnegie Institution for Science, in Pasadena, California. Bañados was looking in particular for quasars - some of the brightest objects in the universe, that consist of a supermassive black hole surrounded by swirling, accreting disks of matter. FIRE is a spectrometer that classifies objects based on their infrared spectra. However, that model would begin to be grossly insufficient if we were to discover primordial black holes - hypothetical gravity wells that existed before the first stars formed.

"We have already secured observations for this object with a number of the most powerful telescopes in the world". The quasar's light traveled some 13 billion light-years before reaching the Magellan Telescopes.

It's still unclear how exactly a supermassive black hole formed without many stars in the universe. "We're used to the idea of the stars being nearly eternal, but there actually was a time before there were any stars, when the universe was dark".

Schematic representation at top of page of the look back into history that is possible by the discovery of the most distant quasar yet known. It's part of a long-term search for the earliest quasars, which will continue. It dates back to 690 million years after the Big Bang.

Researchers had previously speculated that to exist so soon after the Big Bang, certain conditions must have existed that allowed for the formation of supermassive black holes. They want to know what burned the fog away: stars, supermassive black holes, or both in tandem? Extremely large black holes, such as the one identified by Simcoe and his colleagues, should form over periods much longer than 690 million years.

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