Mysterious black hole discovered at the dawn of the universe

Mysterious black hole discovered at the dawn of the universe

The new supermassive black hole J1342+0928 (yellow star), which resides in a mostly neutral universe at the edge of cosmic dawn, is more distant than any other found to date (yellow dots). That, of course, gives us its age: the light took 13 billion years to reach our telescopes. Analysis of this object reveals that reionization, the process that defogged the universe like a hair dryer on a steamy bathroom mirror, was about half complete at that time.

It's a truly gargantuan black hole, some 800 million times the mass of our sun.

A team led by Eduardo Bañados, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Pasadena, found the new black hole by searching through old data for objects with the right color to be ultradistant quasars - the visible signatures of supermassive black holes swallowing gas.

Also involved were: the DECam Legacy Survey (DECaLS), a data set using the Darken Energy Camera on the Blanco 4-m telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory; the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS) Large Area Survey; and the near-infrared spectrograph on the Gemini North Telescope. On March 9, Bañados observed a faint dot in the southern sky for just 10 minutes. "That night I couldn't even sleep", he said.

Prior to this discovery, the record-holder for the furthest known quasar existed when the Universe was about 800 million years old. But this process generates light and heat.

Quasars, energized by gases spiraling at high speeds into an enormous black hole, are known to inhabit the center of certain galaxies, sometimes outshining all the stars in those galaxies.

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"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", co-author Xiaohui Fan of the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory said in a statement.

"What transitions the universe from being neutral to ionized is starlight from the first galaxies", he said. Theorists have spent years learning how to bulk up a black hole in computer models, she said.

Artist's concept of the quasar and its black hole in space. The black hole formed only 690 million years after the Big Bang - aka, when the universe was just 5 percent of its current age, NPR writes. "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". Yet this scenario requires exceptional conditions that would have allowed gas clouds to condense all together into a single object instead of splintering into many stars, as is typically the case. Supermassive black holes like this one are different: what must have happened, scientists think, is the black hole started much larger than a typical supernova remnant-perhaps forming directly from a huge amount of gas that never became a light-producing star.

When light hits a neutral hydrogen atom, the atom can absorb the light and lose its electron.

The light from this quasar was emitted 690 million years after the Big Bang, relatively close to the beginning of everything.

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