Astronomers Find the Earliest Supermassive Black Hole Ever Discovered

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In this approach, collapsing clouds in the early universe gave birth to overgrown baby black holes that weighed thousands or tens of thousands of solar masses.

Then gravity began to squash down matter into the first stars and galaxies, then creating light in the form of photons. Astronomers look forward to the European Space Agency's Euclid mission, which has significant NASA participation, and NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission, to find more such distant objects.

In a study published in Nature, an worldwide team of scientists has now found the most distant (therefore earliest) quasar ever discovered.

"The new quasar is itself one of the first galaxies, and yet it already harbors a behemoth black hole as massive as others in the present-day Universe", said Xiaohui Fan, one of the authors from the University of Arizona. "Gathering all this mass in fewer than 690 million years is an enormous challenge for theories of supermassive black hole growth", said Eduardo Bañados, the Carnegie scientist who spotted it. If it is located in a denser than average part of the universe, it could get an earlier start in life and grow more quickly.

Scientists may have just discovered when the first stars in the universe were born.

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The matter-munching sinkhole is a whopping 13 billion light-years away, so far that we see it as it was a mere 690 million years after the Big Bang. It dates back to 690 million years after the Big Bang. At some point, the radiation released by material as it falls into the black hole carries out so much momentum that it blocks new gas from falling in and disrupts the flow. About 400,000 years after the Big Bang, these particles cooled and coalesced into neutral hydrogen gas.

He said he suspects that despite its precocious youth, J1342+0928 eventually settled down to life at a more measured pace, becoming a more typical supermassive black hole at the center of a large elliptical galaxy. The ionization of the cosmos' gas allowed light to move more freely through space.

The researchers used FIRE to determine that a large fraction of the hydrogen surrounding the quasar is neutral.

"It was the universe's last major transition and one of the current frontiers of astrophysics", Bañados said. Not to scale! The quasar is surrounded by neutral hydrogen, indicating that it is from the period called the epoch of reionization, when the universe's first light sources turned on. After hundreds of millions of years, young stars or quasars emitted enough light to strip the electrons back off these atoms, dissipating the cosmic fog like mist at dawn. "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".

Simcoe said he anticipated astronomers would be able to detect many more black holes of similar sizes and ages going forward, and he hoped they might one day be able to explain how the one researchers discovered grew so large in such a short amount of time. As more stars formed from the remains of first-generation stars, they became "polluted" with heavier elements and in turn produce even heavier elements when they explode in supernovae.