Supermassive black hole is the most distant ever observed

Lena Tucker
December 8, 2017

Artist's conceptions of the most-distant supermassive black hole ever discovered, which is part of a quasar from just 690 million years after the Big Bang. In effect, the light shows that quasar as it was 13 billion years ago, a mere 690 million years after the Big Bang. But what's of particular note is its mass, which the Gemini telescope atop Maunakea confirmed is 800 million times that of our sun.

"Quasars are among the brightest and most-distant known celestial objects and are crucial to understanding the early universe", said Bram Venemans from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany in a statement.

The discovery of a massive black hole so early in the universe may provide key clues on conditions at that time, which allowed for huge black holes to form.

The researcher Eduardo Banados of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who led the research published in the journal Nature said that so if the universe was a 50-year-old person, we are seeing a picture of that character when he or she was 2-1/2 years old. Matter such as gas falling onto the black hole will form an ultra-hot accretion disk before falling in, making the whole setup one of the most luminous objects in the universe: a quasar.

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.

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

The black hole doesn't match up with existing formation models based on what occurred following the Big Bang.

Reionization, black hole evolution, galaxy evolution - even with these first observations, the newly discovered quasar has given astronomers key information about cosmic history.

"What we have found is that the universe was about 50/50 - it's a moment when the first galaxies emerged from their cocoons of neutral gas and started to shine their way out", says MIT's Robert Simcoe, co-author of the study. As the universe expanded in size, those particles cooled down, and as they did they formed into a neutral hydrogen gas during which it was completely dark.

In this case, the researchers are using a quasar in the host galaxy to determine that the light reaching us now took over 13 billion years to get here.

"We expect to find more such objects as new surveys of the sky come online [in] the next decade", Simcoe told MACH, adding that such astronomical investigations are "expected to be a growth industry". Astronomers observe the pattern occurred around 690 million years from the formation of the Universe, even before reionizatsii. Astronomers believe that the black hole was formed in a universe which was about half neutral and half ionized. They extrapolated from that to estimate that the universe as a whole was likely about half neutral and half ionized at the time they observed the quasar.

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