"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", Daniel Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, also a coauthor on the paper, said in another statement. Often we think of black holes as forming when a massive star collapses in on itself.
The black hole is 800 million times larger than our sun, nestled inside a bright object called a quasar, which is an emanating light that took 13 billion years to reach Earth. Bañados was looking in particular for quasars - some of the brightest objects in the universe, that consist of a supermassive black hole surrounded by swirling, accreting disks of matter. So basically these black holes either "ate" things much heavier than the sun, or simply sucked in so much gas and dust that they grew enormously. As more giant telescopes are constructed, we'll be able to locate more of these objects, but this specific supermassive black hole gives us unique insight into the state of the early universe, as it existed shortly after the Big Bang.
"The number of quasars as luminous and as distant as we've just found ... there should be between 20 and 100 over the entire sky", Eduardo Bañados of Carnegie and lead author of the study says.
Further observations of the quasar will provide researchers with even more constraints on how black holes in the early universe can form-giving a better insight into what happened just after the Big Bang. As more stars and galaxies formed, they eventually generated enough radiation to flip hydrogen from neutral, a state in which hydrogen's electrons are bound to their nucleus, to ionized, in which the electrons are set free to recombine at random. That means this object dates back 13.1 billion years. "We're used to the idea of the stars being nearly eternal, but there actually was a time before there were any stars, when the universe was dark". However, even in our most conservative analysis we find xHI 0.33 (xHI 0.11) at 68 per cent (95 per cent) probability, indicating that we are probing well within the reionization epoch. As stars and galaxies began to fire up and release energy, the photons they emitted ionized the neutral hydrogen gas that previously filled the universe, marking a fundamental turning point in history.
At a distance of about 13 billion lightyears, the most distant supermassive black hole known so far has been spotted by an global team of astronomers. 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. It's part of a long-term search for the earliest quasars, which will continue.
"This is the only object we have observed from this era". Explaining how such a massive black hole could have formed in such a comparatively short amount of available time is a challenge for models of supermassive black hole formation, and effectively rules out some of those models.
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