Oldest-Known Supermassive Black Hole, Quasar May Have Dozens Of Undiscovered Companions

This illustration provided by the Carnegie Institution for Science shows the most-distant supermassive black hole ever discovered which is part of a quasar from just 690 million years after the Big Bang. On Wednesday Dec. 6 2017 a team led by the Carn

Astronomers Find the Earliest Supermassive Black Hole Ever Discovered

As far as we know, it shouldn't be able to exist, and it just might re-write our understanding of the early universe.

"It's very puzzling", Robert Simcoe from Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, who was a coauthor on the research, said in a statement Wednesday. As the gas falls into the black hole, it speeds up, heats up and brightens, which allows astronomers to see them from across the universe. Supermassive black holes like this one are different: what must have happened, scientists think, is the black hole started much larger than a typical supernova remnant-perhaps forming directly from a huge amount of gas that never became a light-producing star. For some time, the universe was "cloudy" with neutral hydrogen, creating a dense fog that blocked most light. This shift from neutral to ionized hydrogen represented a fundamental change in the universe that has persisted to this day.

"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", said Professor Simcoe. The results were published today in papers in Nature and Astrophysical Journal Letters. Carnegie Institution for Science. It was made by Eduardo Bañados, of the Carnegie Institution for Science, using the institution's 6.5 meter Magellan telescopes in Chile, and made use of astronomical survey data such as that NASA's WISE infrared space telescope. Black holes gain mass much the same way we do, by pulling in matter. That incredible distance means the object dates back to the time when the first stars blinked on, which raises the question of how a black hole that big arose so soon after the universe began.

"We have already secured observations for this object with a number of the most powerful telescopes in the world".

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 universe is thought to be about 13.7 billion years old, meaning this supermassive black hole and quasar existed when the universe was in its infancy or only 5 percent of its current age.

The newly identified quasar appears to inhabit a pivotal moment in the universe's history. 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. Eventually gravity condensed matter and the first few stars and galaxies were born.

But now that they have found one nestled inside a quasar, there could be dozens more of these ancient and massive objects in the skies around us.

"This is the only object we have observed from this era". From this, they inferred that stars must have begun turning on during this time, 690 million years after the Big Bang.

"This is a very exciting discovery", he said.

Fan hopes that more extensive searching will reveal even earlier black holes and the formation of first-generation galaxies. It's thought that black holes grow by accreting, or absorbing mass from the surrounding environment.

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