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The Oldest Black Hole Ever Discovered Is Defying All Our Expectations

08 December 2017

The quasar's light discovered by the researchers dates back to approximately 690 million years after the Big Bang that formed the universe when the cosmos was only 5% of its present age.

It has been challenging for the scientists to explain how black holes gobbled up enough matter to reach supermassive sizes early in the history.

The researcher Eduardo Banados of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who led the research published in the journal Nature said that so if the universe was a 50-year-old person, we are seeing a picture of that character when he or she was 2-1/2 years old. That means the light from this quasar has been traveling our way for more than 13 billion years.

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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", Simcoe says.

Supermassive black holes are thought to exist at the centre of almost every galaxy in the universe.

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But there's a problem with the finding: the black hole appears to be far too big for its age. The earliest known quasar is located 13.04 billion light years from Earth and existed about 750 million years after the Big Bang.

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. In this black hole of extremely high mass, and given that the universe is quite young, it simply should not exist.

"This object provides us with a measurement of the time at which the universe first became illuminated with starlight", said another of the researchers, physics professor Robert Simcoe of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

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It's the first time we are able to detect something this old, and the prospect is exciting as it offers us a unique glimpse into the past. And how did those behemoth black holes grow so big in so little time? As the universe rapidly expanded, these particles cooled and coalesced into neutral hydrogen gas during an era that is sometimes referred to as the dark ages - a period bereft of any sources of light. Although the galaxy can be no more than 690 million years old, it has already formed an enormous amount of dust, and heavy chemical elements. It's part of a long-term search for the earliest quasars, which will still proclaim. They extrapolated from that to estimate that the universe as a whole was likely about half neutral and half ionized at the time they observed the quasar. 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.

The Oldest Black Hole Ever Discovered Is Defying All Our Expectations