Astronomers Find the Earliest Supermassive Black Hole Ever Discovered
07 December, 2017, 07:03
The black hole presumably powers the quasar, whose redshift is 7.54, corresponding to a time when the universe was only 5 percent of its current age, just 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.
But based on the size of the Goliath and the age of the universe, it should not exist, said Robert Simcoe, a physics professor at MIT. "Only one quasar was known to exist at a redshift greater than seven before now, despite extensive searching", said Xiaohui Fan of the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory. This shift from neutral to ionized hydrogen represented a fundamental change in the universe that has persisted to this day.
Quasars are incredibly bright objects deep in the cosmos, powered by black holes devouring everything around them.
"What transitions the universe from being neutral to ionized is starlight from the first galaxies", he said. That indicated to researchers that the stars were just beginning to glow, he said. These findings are published today in the peer-reviewed journal Nature. The other lead authors are from the Carnegie Institution for Science, in Pasadena, California.
It's still unclear how exactly a supermassive black hole formed without many stars in the universe.
The mass of this black hole is some 800 million times that of our sun, in contrast to the 4-million-mass black hole thought to lie at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy.
Since the universe is constantly expanding, distant objects are moving away from us, which stretches out the wavelength of the light they emit. It took more than 13 billion years for the light from the quasar to reach us.
The phenomenon is so big, that it is now 800 million times the mass of the sun.
The newly identified quasar appears to inhabit a pivotal moment in the universe's history. After the energetic particles from the Big Bang cooled, they formed neutral hydrogen. 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. They are regions of space where gravity is so strong that nothing-not even light-can escape. Once the universe became reionzed, photons could travel freely throughout space, thus the universe became transparent to light.
Quasar J1342+0928 comes from a time known as the dark ages, where a spontaneous eruption was believed to create the Big Bang.
It's not the brightest or most massive - that honor belongs to a quasar called SDSS J0100+2802, which boasts barely-comprehensible stats like a mass of 12 billion Suns, and a luminosity of 420 trillion Suns. That helped scientists estimate that the stars turned on roughly when it began its journey - about 696 million years after the big bang. 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. This means that the early universe likely was conducive to the quick formation of supermassive black holes; our current universe isn't, and black holes are generally much smaller. It's thought that black holes grow by accreting, or absorbing mass from the surrounding environment.
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