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Supermassive Black Hole Discovered at Edge of Cosmic Dawn
07 December 2017, 06:13 | Edward Lowe
Schematic representation of the look back into history
Astronomers spotted the black hole, the most distant ever found, sitting inside a bright object so far away that the light had been traveling for 13 billion years before reaching Earth.
"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 with the Carnegie Institution for Science, said in a news release.
My current research involves several projects related to distant (z 5.5) quasars (active supermassive black holes in the center of massive galaxies).
In addition, he says, it looks like this black hole formed in a cosmic environment that was only just starting to be affected by light from the first stars. The newly discovered quasar shines as brightly as 40 trillion suns.
About 13.7 billion years ago, there was a Big Bang, which created a mess of subatomic particles.
At a distance of about 13 billion lightyears, the most distant supermassive black hole known so far has been spotted by an global team of astronomers.
"The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big". Using the black hole, scientists can now predict when stars began lighting up the universe within an accuracy of about 1 to 2 percent.
"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", Simcoe says. Using FIRE, the researchers determined that at the time this quasar began emitting light, the hydrogen gas around it was half neutral and half ionized.
Quasars as young as this one also yield valuable information about galaxy evolution. They become supermassive by merging with other black holes and devouring other stars.
Additionally, the size of the black hole is a puzzle in itself: Its mass is 800 million times greater than our sun's.
In an effort led by MPIA's Bram Venemans, the astronomers targeted the quasar with the millimeter telescope NOEMA, operated by IRAM, in the French Alps and the VLA radio telescope array in Socorro, New Mexico. 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.
Astronomers have at least two gnawing questions about the first billion years of the universe, an era steeped in literal fog and figurative mystery. "Something only started to happen when the first star formed and you got radiation that started to ionize everything". Again, this is a challenge for models, this time for models of galaxy evolution. The galaxy, for its age and time period, is far more rich in metals than it should be, considering the first generation of stars were comprised nearly entirely of hydrogen and helium. Follow-up observations, as well as a search for similar quasars, are on track to put our picture of early cosmic history onto a solid footing. Astronomers refer to this Doppler-like phenomenon as "redshift"; the more distant an object, the farther its light has shifted toward the red, or infrared end of the spectrum.
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Researchers had previously speculated that to exist so soon after the Big Bang, certain conditions must have existed that allowed for the formation of supermassive black holes.
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