Colossal distant black hole holds surprises about early universe
Colossal distant black hole holds surprises about early universe
Scientists find 'behemoth' black hole so big it could challenge our understanding of the universe's beginning
08 December, 2017, 01:45
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.
Venemans Bram of the Max Planck Institute and an author on the paper says it's likely the early universe favored the formation of massive, unstable stars that exploded after a few million years, producing metals more rapidly than our present universe.
It has been challenging for the scientists to explain how black holes gobbled up enough matter to reach supermassive sizes early in the history.
The astronomers reportedly plan to keep looking for more distant quasars to understand what was happening in the universe at the time.
A team led by Eduardo Bañados, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Pasadena, found the new black hole by searching through old data for objects with the right color to be ultradistant quasars - the visible signatures of supermassive black holes swallowing gas. It's the oldest and most distant object we've ever seen.
"We're talking 690 million years" after the Big Bang, said Gemini spokesman Peter Michaud.
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.
Black holes are some of the most mysterious regions of space ever discovered.
Some hundreds of millions of years later, the energetic ultraviolet radiation of the first stars and the accretion disks of the first black holes reionized almost all of the hydrogen in the universe, separating the electrons from the hydrogen nuclei (protons). That helped scientists estimate that the stars turned on roughly when it began its journey - about 696 million years after the big bang. "What was surprising here was that this one seemed to be fully formed even though the universe was very young at this period in time". 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. Discovery challenges theories about the formation of black holes. Roughly 400,000 years after the original explosion, a lot of high energy particles slowed down and cooled down to become neutral hydrogen gas.
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.
Astronomers have at least two gnawing questions about the first billion years of the universe, an era steeped in literal fog and figurative mystery. 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. It's thought that black holes grow by accreting, or absorbing mass from the surrounding environment.
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