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Supermassive black hole 'could hold answers to how the universe began'

08 December 2017

At the center of a distant galaxy, scientists have found the oldest black hole ever discovered, and it's so weird it's posing some perplexing questions.

She came over 690 million years after the Big Bang. What's extraordinary about this black hole, aside from its massive size, is that its discovery will help scientists comprehend the processes of their growth during the time the universe was still forming. 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.

The black hole was detected by Eduardo Bañados of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who was scouring surveys of the sky to look for ancient objects like this one.

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The supermassive black hole emerged when the universe was still in its infancy, and it took light carrying its image 13 billion years to reach us.

It is the most distant black hole ever seen by scientists. "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".

To make things even more interesting, this appears to be a supermassive black hole - the most massive known objects in the universe, the likes of which are thought to lie at the center of all galaxies. Its black hole was even larger at 2 billion solar masses.

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Some hundreds of millions of years later, the energetic ultraviolet radiation of the first stars and the accretion disks of the first black holes reionized almost all of the hydrogen in the universe, separating the electrons from the hydrogen nuclei (protons). In this black hole of extremely high mass, and given that the universe is quite young, it simply should not exist.

The astronomer who found the odd black hole said that there's no way of explaining how a black hole would be able to pick up such mass, and that it might challenge out current understandings of how black holes form.

"The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big".

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"This is the only object we have observed from this era", said Robert Simcoe, the Francis L. Friedman professor of physics at MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. The earliest known galaxy discovered by the Hubble space telescope existed 400 million years after the Big Bang, according to NASA's website. Eventually, gravity condensed matter into the first stars and galaxies, which in turn produced light in the form of photons. It's part of a long-term search for the earliest quasars, which will still proclaim. From this, they inferred that stars must have begun turning on during this time, 690 million years after the Big Bang. Astronomers believe that the black hole was formed in a universe which was about half neutral and half ionized.

Supermassive black hole 'could hold answers to how the universe began'