Astronomers have spotted the oldest, and furthest ever supermassive black hole – a matter-devouring monster 800 million times the mass of our Sun.
It’s astonishingly large for its young age, scientists say, as we’re seeing it just 690 million years after the Big Bang.
‘This black hole grew far larger than we expected in only 690 million years after the Big Bang, which challenges our theories about how black holes form,’ said study co-author Daniel Stern of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
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For black holes to become so large in the early universe, astronomers speculate there must have been special conditions to allow rapid growth – but the underlying reason remains mysterious.
The newly found black hole is voraciously devouring material at the center of a galaxy — a phenomenon called a quasar.
‘Quasars are among the brightest and most distant known celestial objects and are crucial to understanding the early universe,’ said co-author Bram Venemans of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.
This quasar is especially interesting because it comes from a time when the universe was just beginning to emerge from its dark ages.
The discovery will provide fundamental information about the universe when it was only 5 percent of its current age.
Astronomers combined data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) with ground-based surveys to identify potential distant objects to study, then followed up with Carnegie Observatories’ Magellan telescopes in Chile.