Massive black hole reveals when the first stars blinked on

Massive black hole reveals when the first stars blinked on

Massive black hole reveals when the first stars blinked on

"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.

"The very early universe was extremely boring, because there's only neutral gas floating around, and the only thing that was happening was these small clumps [of matter] were forming", says Bram Venemans, a co-author on the paper and a research staff scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.

Study lead author Eduardo Bañados of the Carnegie Institution for Science said that "gathering all this mass in fewer than 690 million years is an enormous challenge for theories of supermassive black hole growth". 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. Whether they're ripping through the universe at thousands of miles a second or potentially serving as portals to alternate realities, physicists amateur and professional alike remain fascinated with them. For one, they can be used to "X-ray" the universe over large distances. That, of course, gives us its age: the light took 13 billion years to reach our telescopes.

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When the black hole formed more than 13 billion years ago, the universe was about half ionized and half neutral, Simcoe said. Any element higher than helium on the periodic table is regarded as a "metal" by astronomers studying this period. "We have an estimate now, with about 1 to 2 percent accuracy, for the moment at which starlight first illuminated the universe". Analysis of this object reveals that reionization, the process that defogged the universe like a hair dryer on a steamy bathroom mirror, was about half complete at that time. After the energetic particles from the Big Bang cooled, they formed neutral hydrogen.

Quasars as young as this one also yield valuable information about galaxy evolution.

The phenomenon is so big, that it is now 800 million times the mass of the sun. 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. The characterization of the quasar host galaxy was carried out with the IRAM/NOEMA and JVLA interferometers and the findings are reported in a companion article published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters led by Bram Venemans. "Something only started to happen when the first star formed and you got radiation that started to ionize everything". "This adds to our understanding of our universe at large because we've identified that moment of time when the universe is in the middle of this very rapid transition from neutral to ionized".

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There are only 20 to 100 quasars that are as bright and distant as this newly discovered object in Earth's sky, so the detection of this supermassive black hole is a pretty big deal.

The black hole is positioned at the center of a quasar, the massive, highly luminous accretion disks found at the center of many galaxies.

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.

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