The Oldest Black Hole Ever Discovered Is Defying All Our Expectations


Astronomers have discovered the most distant known black hole: a so-called quasar whose light has taken 13 billion years to reach us. Matter such as gas falling onto the black hole will form an ultra-hot accretion disk before falling in, making the whole setup one of the most luminous objects in the universe: a quasar.

The black hole resides in a quasar and its light reaches us from when the universe was only 5% of its current age - over 13 billion years ago, or "just" 690 million years after the Big Bang. The old and farthest black hole ever witnessed is a celestial brute 800 million times more extensive than the sun which is providing scientists with some wonders about the nature of the universe.

However, much of the hydrogen surrounding the discovered quasar is neutral, which means it's the only example of the universe we can see of the times before the ionization that, well, lets us see it.

Adding to the black hole's intrigue is the environment in which it formed: The scientists have deduced that the black hole took shape just as the universe was undergoing a fundamental shift, from an opaque environment dominated by neutral hydrogen to one in which the first stars started to blink on.

This can make the search for them "long and tedious", the site says, but the hunt could lead to more answers about how the universe was formed.

"Models of galaxy evolution will need to be able to explain how a galaxy could form the stars needed to produce the observed amounts of dust and heavier chemical elements in such a comparatively short time", Venemans said. Once the universe became reionzed, photons could travel freely throughout space.

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. The higher the redshift, the greater the distance, and the farther back astronomers are looking in time when they observe the object. The other lead authors are from the Carnegie Institution for Science, in Pasadena, California.

"With several next-generation, even-more-sensitive facilities now being built, we can expect many exciting discoveries in the very early universe in the coming years", Stern said. As the universe rapidly expanded, these particles cooled and coalesced into neutral hydrogen gas during an era that is sometimes referred to as the dark ages - a period bereft of any sources of light. But at a time when stars were just starting to light up, they wouldn't have had the time and mass to form such a black hole. "We now have the most accurate measurements to date of when the first stars were turning on". Bañados says: "Gathering all this mass in fewer than 690 million years is an enormous challenge for theories of supermassive black hole growth". "So there must be another way that it formed".

This research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation (NSF), with support from construction of FIRE from NSF and from Curtis and Kathleen Marble.