"Gathering all this mass in fewer than 690 million years is an enormous challenge for theories of supermassive black hole growth", Eduardo Bañados, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institute for Science and lead author of the research, said in a press release Wednesday. And it is so far away that we are seeing something that formed when the universe was only five per cent of its current age - something that scientists say shouldn't be able to happen. As mass falls into the black hole, it forms an accretion disk around the black hole and jets of matter that spew from the black hole.
Quasars are the most luminous non-transient objects known, and as such they enable studies of the Universe at the earliest cosmic epochs. When you think of a black hole, you're likely thinking of a stellar black hole, which forms when a star explodes in a spectacular supernova, and the remaining core collapses under the weight of its own gravity. "We have an estimate now, with about 1 to 2 percent accuracy, for the moment at which starlight first illuminated the universe".
Schematic representation at top of page of the look back into history that is possible by the discovery of the most distant quasar yet known. And how did those behemoth black holes grow so big in so little time?
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.
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The team believes that the newly discovered black hole existed in an environment that was about half neutral, half ionized. This quasar has a bolometric luminosity of 4×10L⊙ and a black hole mass of 8×10M⊙. The light of the newly discovered most distant quasar yet carries crucial information regarding one of the earliest phases of the universe, the so-called reionization phase. As more stars and galaxies formed, they eventually generated enough radiation to flip hydrogen from neutral, a state in which hydrogen's electrons are bound to their nucleus, to ionized, in which the electrons are set free to recombine at random.
"The moment when the first stars turned on is when our universe filled with light", says Simcoe, who explains that when this light leaked out of the first galaxies, it interacted with the surrounding matter and changed its properties. It also did this extremely fast, at least by the standards of the universe, which scientists have estimated is 13.8 billion years old. Redshift refers to the lengthening of the wavelength of light from an object, caused by the Doppler effect as the universe expands. These can not, in theory, have formed from the collapse of massive stars because the timescales don't match-there would not have been enough time for a start to be born, live and die for it to exist. Any element higher than helium on the periodic table is regarded as a "metal" by astronomers studying this period. By way of comparison, Earth is about 4.5 billion years old.
About 13.7 billion years ago, there was a Big Bang, which created a mess of subatomic particles. It's part of a long-term search for the earliest quasars, which will continue. So this black hole may also hold a few keys to that mystery.