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08 December 2017, 01:45 | Ruben Fields
Scientists find 'behemoth' black hole so big it could challenge our understanding of the universe's beginning
The black hole is even more puzzling because of what was happening in the universe at that time. Explaining how such a massive black hole could have formed in such a comparatively short amount of available time is a challenge for models of supermassive black hole formation, and effectively rules out some of those models. But this black hole arose in a universe that was only 690 million years old - not almost enough time to accumulate the mass needed to grow so big. 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.
Another study author, Robert Simcoe of MIT, said "this is the only object we have observed from this era". "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".
"The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big". The universe was opaque or "foggy" as photons were interacting with early protons and electrons.
"Gathering all this mass in fewer than 690 million years is an enormous challenge for theories of supermassive black hole growth", Eduardo Bañados, the Carnegie Institution for Science astronomer who led the discovery, said in a press release on Wednesday. But the universe remained dark, without any luminous sources until the gravity created the first stars and galaxies that corresponds to our period. Quasars consist of a supermassive black hole and the swirling bits of matter it absorbs. Stars and galaxies were first appearing and their radiation ionizing the surrounding hydrogen gas to illuminate the cosmos. When we were looking at further distances, we were also looking for the history because of the time it takes for light to move across the universe. That means that the black hole quasar was formed exactly during that reionization phase after the Big Bang event.
"In some sense, what we've done is determine with a high degree of accuracy when the first stars in the universe turned on", he said. It's mostly believed that these giant regions form when a large star explodes or collapses on itself.
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That dates it to a time when the first stars started to light up the inky blackness of the early universe.
"If you start with a seed like a big star, and let it grow at the maximum possible rate, and start at the moment of the Big Bang, you could never make something with 800 million solar masses - it's unrealistic", Simcoe says. "So there must be another way that it formed".
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. The newly discovered quasar shines as brightly as 40 trillion suns.
The discovery was part of a concerted, multi-year search for ever more distant quasars led by Fabian Walter and Bram Venemans of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.
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