It’s a truly gargantuan black hole, some 800 million times the mass of our sun.
In a study published in Nature, an worldwide team of scientists has now found the most distant (therefore earliest) quasar ever discovered.
Scientists have discovered the farthest known supermassive blackhole, believed to have been created just 690 million years after the Big Bang. This newly discovered quasar has a redshift of 7.54, based on the detection of ionised carbon emissions from the galaxy that hosts the massive black hole. Carnegie astronomer Eduardo Bañados led the effort to identify candidates out of the hundreds of millions of objects WISE found that would be worthy of follow-up with Magellan. It suggests to astronomers that the early universe had conditions that facilitated the creation of large black holes with masses of up to 100,000 times that of the Sun.
Scientists have just discovered a supermassive black hole that existed surprisingly early in the history of the universe, and the puzzling find is shedding new light on when the first stars blinked on.
The light from this supermassive hole has reached Earth from a time when the universe was in its nascent stages, when it was a mere 5% of its current age. About 400,000 years later (very quickly on a cosmic scale), these particles cooled and coalesced into neutral hydrogen gas.
As more stars and galaxies filled the void, their radiation began to energize the hydrogen, allowing the electrons bound to the nucleus to recombine and generate other chemical reactions. It is surrounded by neutral hydrogen, indicating that it is from the period called the epoch of reionisation, when the universe’s first light sources turned on. The gas has remained in that state since that time. Once the universe became reionised, photons could travel freely throughout space, thus the Universe became transparent to light.
Artist’s conception of the discovery of the most-distant quasar known.
The team found the quasar as part of a project to seek out the most distant supermassive black holes in the universe.
Summing up the magnitude of the findings in relation to the epoch of reionization, Bañados explained that: “It was the universe’s last major transition and one of the current frontiers of astrophysics”. The higher the redshift, the greater the distance, and the further back astronomers are looking in time when they observe the object. Often we think of black holes as forming when a massive star collapses in on itself.
The most interesting aspect of this supermassive black hole is its age – it’s 13 billion light years away, which scientists determined via redshift.
The quasar is predicted to be one of anywhere between 20 and 100 of its kind existing in the sky, so the discovery signals a huge leap forward in the process of discerning its celestial peers.