Supermassive black hole is the most distant ever observed

Posted December 08, 2017

What makes the discovery so significant, says Engadget, is that the matter surrounding the supermassive black hole formed "just hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang". Based on the quasar's redshift, the researchers calculated the mass of the black hole at its center and determined that it is around 800 million times the mass of the sun. What's extraordinary about this black hole, aside from its massive size, is that its discovery will help scientists comprehend the processes of their growth during the time the universe was still forming.

The astronomers reportedly plan to keep looking for more distant quasars to understand what was happening in the universe at the time. 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. Most are dormant, and thus are only "seen" by how their enormous gravity affects the objects around them.

"In some sense, what we've done is determine with a high degree of accuracy when the first stars in the universe turned on", he said.

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The new black hole's mass, calculated after more observations, adds to an existing problem.

Black holes are some of the most mysterious regions of space ever discovered.

This behemoth black hole formed when stars were beginning to alter the cosmic universe by exposing objects to light.

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"Here we see this thing that's very bright coming from very early in the universe", Simcoe said.

Much bigger black holes are out there, but none so far away - at least among those found so far.

"This is the only object we have observed from this era", study co-author Robert Simcoe, from MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, said in a statement. As the gas falls into the black hole, it speeds up, heats up and brightens, which allows astronomers to see them from across the universe. During its early stage, the universe went through what is sometimes called the Dark Age - not a metaphor, as it is for the human period, but a truly a dark age as there was no light.

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"The number of quasars as luminous and as distant as we've just found ... there should be between 20 and 100 over the entire sky", Eduardo Bañados of Carnegie and lead author of the study says. Approximately 400,000 years after the Big Bang, these particles cooled and merged into neutral hydrogen gas. From this, they inferred that stars must have begun turning on during this time, 690 million years after the Big Bang. In this approach, collapsing clouds in the early universe gave birth to overgrown baby black holes that weighed thousands or tens of thousands of solar masses. It's part of a long-term search for the earliest quasars, which will still proclaim. Astronomers believe that the black hole was formed in a universe which was about half neutral and half ionized.