The oldest supermassive black hole ever seen has been discovered by scientists
08 December, 2017, 01:42 | Author: Rosa Wright
At the center of a distant galaxy, scientists have found the oldest black hole ever discovered, and it's so freaky it's posing some perplexing questions.
It has a cosmic age of 690 million years after the Big Bang, which means it probably started developing as the universe was transitioning from the period known as the dark ages of the universe - when there were no stars.
Besides revealing a mystery about black hole formation, the new discovery sheds more light (so to speak) on when the first stars formed in the universe.
"Quasars are among the brightest and most-distant known celestial objects and are crucial to understanding the early universe", saidBram Venemans from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany in a statement. Discovering such a massive black hole existing so early in the universe's history amazed the researchers.
The astronomers reportedly plan to keep looking for more distant quasars to understand what was happening in the universe at the time.
Simcoe and postdoc Monica L. Turner are the MIT co-authors of a paper detailing the results, published today in the journal Nature. The find of this supermassive black hole is puzzling astronomers because they can't figure out how this black hole was formed so early in the universe's history. Eduardo Bañados, lead author of the article describing the discovery, says: "Reionization was the universe's last major transition, and it is one of the current frontiers in astrophysics".
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Geballe said that makes it 200 times more massive than the black hole at the center of our galaxy, prompting the question: How did it get so big so fast? Quasars consist of a supermassive black hole and the swirling bits of matter it absorbs.
The black hole - an area in space-time with enormous gravitational effects that can absorb all matter and energy - was formed when the universe was only 5% of its current age, The Independent reports.
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. "They're rare, but they're very much there, and we need to figure out how they form", said Priyamvada Natarajan, an astrophysicist at Yale University who was not part of the research team.
It's the first time we are able to detect something this old, and the prospect is exciting as it offers us a unique glimpse into the past.
The astronomer who found the unusual black hole said that there's no way of explaining how a black hole would be able to pick up such mass, and that it might challenge out current understandings of how black holes form.
The black hole doesn't match up with existing formation models based on what occurred following the Big Bang. 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. Astronomers believe that the black hole was formed in a universe which was about half neutral and half ionized.
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