Scientists observe supermassive black hole in infant universe

Pablo Tucker
December 7, 2017

Finding such a large black hole existing so early in the universe's history surprised the researchers.

"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.

Astronomers have found the monster black hole, almost as old as the universe itself, chewing through clouds.

Adding to the black hole's intrigue is the environment in which it formed: The scientists have deduced that the black hole took shape just as the universe was undergoing a fundamental shift, from an opaque environment dominated by neutral hydrogen to one in which the first stars started to blink on.

Energy released at this time caused the universe to become "reionized"-the neutral hydrogen became excited and ionized, allowing photons to move through space and allowing the universe to become transparent".


But experts believe that this and other black holes could point to a new theory - of the world being created by the Big Bounce. Carnegie Institution for Science.

The black hole was detected by Eduardo Bañados, an astronomer at Carnegie, who found the object while combing through multiple all-sky surveys, or maps of the distant universe.

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.

After identifying several objects of interest, Bañados focused in on them using an instrument known as FIRE (the Folded-port InfraRed Echellette), which was built by Simcoe and operates at the 6.5-meter-diameter Magellan telescopes in Chile.

However, black holes that formed in the early universe are different.


The higher the redshift, the greater the distance, and the farther back astronomers are looking in time when they observe the object.

Space.com has a look at a supermassive black hole (a black hole millions of times larger than the sun) that's extremely, extremely old.

The black hole is positioned at the center of a quasar, the massive, highly luminous accretion disks found at the center of many galaxies.

Distant quasars are valuable sources of information about the early universe.

After analyzing the quasar, the scientists found a lot of the hydrogen surrounding it is neutral, which suggests that the supermassive black hole formed during the reionization phase after the Big Bang. "Models of galaxy evolution will need to be able to explain how a galaxy could form the stars needed to produce the observed amounts of dust and heavier chemical elements in such a comparatively short time", Venemans said. Eventually gravity condensed matter and the first few stars and galaxies were born.


Artist's conception of the discovery of the most-distant quasar known. It's part of a long-term search for the earliest quasars, which will continue. Nearly all the hydrogen atoms we've observed in intergalactic space have lost their electrons, giving them a positive charge. That helped scientists estimate that the stars turned on roughly when it began its journey - about 696 million years after the big bang.

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