Published: Fri, December 08, 2017
Science | By Cecil Little

Earliest Black Hole Gives Rare Glimpse of Ancient Universe

Earliest Black Hole Gives Rare Glimpse of Ancient Universe

The quasar's light detected by the researchers dates back to about 690 million years after the Big Bang that created the universe, when the cosmos was only 5 percent of its present age.

The discovery, known as a quasar, is about 800 million times the mass of our Sun.

Scientists says our current understanding suggests that for a black hole of this magnitude to exist at such an early stage in the universe is theoretically impossible, the website reports.

Study lead author Eduardo of the Carnegie Institution for Science explained that "gathering all this mass in fewer than 690 million years is an enormous challenge for theories of supermassive black hole growth".

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"I don't think 10 or 15 years ago anybody would expect there to be such a massive black hole that early in the universe", Geballe said. 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.

"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", Simcoe says.

Quasars are powered by supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies - in this case, a black hole with nearly a billion times the mass of the Sun. Its black hole was even larger at 2 billion solar masses.

Once matter came together via gravity to form galaxies and stars, the energy released by these early objects ionized the neutral hydrogen, a reaction that allowed photons to travel and make space a transparent space in which we can look in, around and back into time.

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"This black hole grew far larger than we expected in only 690 million years after the Big Bang, which challenges our theories about how black holes form", said study co-author Daniel Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It is the most distant black hole ever discovered. "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.

"Something is causing gas within the quasar to move around at very high speed, and the only phenomenon we know that achieves such speeds is orbit around a supermassive black hole", Simcoe says.

"Here we see this thing that's very bright coming from very early in the universe", Simcoe said.

"The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big". It is surrounded by neutral hydrogen, indicating that it is from the period called the epoch of reionization, when the universe's first light sources turned on.

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Astronomers have at least two gnawing questions about the first billion years of the universe, an era steeped in literal fog and figurative mystery. Astronomers believe that the black hole was formed in a universe which was about half neutral and half ionized.

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