Astronomers Find the Earliest Supermassive Black Hole Ever Discovered

08 December, 2017, 01:41 | Author: Patty Aguilar
  • NASA supermassive black hole discovered

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.

Banados made the discovery while looking for quasars in various maps of the early universe, and then making observations with a telescope instrument in Chile known as the Folded-port InfraRed Echellette, or FIRE. In an email to MACH, she said she and the others have argued that, rather than being only about 100 to 1,000 times as massive as the sun, some black hole seeds must have been 10,000 to 100,000 times more massive.

Geballe said the research team led by Eduardo Banados, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science, initially tried to measure the black hole's mass with a telescope in Arizona, but atmospheric conditions proved too hard.

Astronomers spotted the black hole, the most distant ever found, sitting inside a bright object so far away that the light had been traveling for 13 billion years before reaching Earth. 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.

"In some sense, what we've done is determine with a high degree of accuracy when the first stars in the universe turned on", he said.

There is one large mystery that remains to be solved: How did a black hole of such massive proportions form so early in the universe's history? Its black hole was even larger at 2 billion solar masses.


That dates it to a time when the first stars started to light up the inky blackness of the early universe. That helped scientists estimate that the stars turned on roughly when it began its journey - about 696 million years after the big bang.

Now the discovery of a supermassive black hole smack in the middle of this period is helping astronomers resolve both questions.

"This is the only object we have observed from this era", study co-author Robert Simcoe, from MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, said in a statement.

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

"It's a moment when the first galaxies emerged from their cocoons of neutral gas and started to shine their way out", Simcoe said. Roughly 400,000 years after the original explosion, a lot of high energy particles slowed down and cooled down to become neutral hydrogen gas. But the universe remained dark, without any luminous sources until the gravity created the first stars and galaxies that corresponds to our period.

The newly-discovered black hole is part of a quasar, meaning it sits at the center of a cloud of gas that it's slowly swallowing. Although the galaxy can be no more than 690 million years old, it has already formed an enormous amount of dust, and heavy chemical elements. It's thought that black holes grow by accreting, or absorbing mass from the surrounding environment.

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