Super big black hole from early universe farthest ever found

07 December, 2017, 06:53 | Author: Oscar Goodwin
  • Scientists observe supermassive black hole in infant universe

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.

The phenomenon is so big, that it is now 800 million times the mass of the sun. 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. "This is the most accurate measurement of that time, and a real indication of when the first stars turned on".

At a distance of about 13 billion lightyears, the most distant supermassive black hole known so far has been spotted by an worldwide team of astronomers.

Prior to this discovery, the record-holder for the furthest known quasar existed when the Universe was about 800 million years old. The galaxy, for its age and time period, is far more rich in metals than it should be, considering the first generation of stars were comprised nearly entirely of hydrogen and helium.

The Carnegie Institution for Science is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. "Gathering all this mass in fewer than 690 million years is an enormous challenge for theories of supermassive black hole growth", says Eduardo Bañados from the Carnegie Institute for Science, who led the team of astronomers that made the discovery.

The researchers have detected the most distant supermassive black hole ever observed.

The light that was measured from the exceedingly distant quasar has been a long time in coming: approximately 13 billion years for it to reach humanity's instruments on Earth, according to NASA.

This quasar is interesting because it comes from a time when the Universe was just 5% of its current age. Once the universe became reionzed, photons could travel freely throughout space, thus the universe became transparent to light.

The team believes that the newly discovered black hole existed in an environment that was about half neutral, half ionized. Astronomers refer to this Doppler-like phenomenon as "redshift"; the more distant an object, the farther its light has shifted toward the red, or infrared end of the spectrum.

Using FIRE, the team identified one of Bañados' objects as a quasar with a redshift of 7.5, meaning the object was emitting light around 690 million years after the Big Bang. The higher the redshift, the greater the distance, and the further back astronomers are looking in time when they observe the object.

The light from this quasar was emitted 690 million years after the Big Bang, relatively close to the beginning of everything. The energy released by these ancient galaxies caused the neutral hydrogen strewn throughout the universe to get excited and ionize, or lose an electron, a state that the gas has remained in since that time. The gravity is so intense that the matter can't escape, which in turn makes its gravitational pull that much stronger. Black holes gain mass much the same way we do, by pulling in matter.

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