Scientists discover most distant super massive black hole

Scientists discover most distant super massive black hole

It's a glimpse into what the earliest universe was like.

"It's very puzzling", Robert Simcoe from Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, who was a coauthor on the research, said in a statement Wednesday.

The new black hole's mass, calculated after more observations, adds to an existing problem.

Black holes are a big mystery.

Scientists can now estimate when stars first began to light up the cosmic universe, thanks to the discovery of a supermassive black hole, NPR reports.

The newly discovered quasar hails from the time of reionization, when light from the earliest stars and galaxies exited neutral hydrogen gas atoms, causing them to ionize, or lose an electron. This shift from neutral to ionized hydrogen represented a fundamental change in the universe that has persisted to this day. This black hole was seen devouring material at the center of a galaxy. As more stars formed from the remains of first-generation stars, they became "polluted" with heavier elements and in turn produce even heavier elements when they explode in supernovae.

Simcoe and postdoc Monica L. Turner are the MIT co-authors of a paper detailing the results, published today in the journal Nature. Carnegie Institution for Science. The researchers also show that the black hole already weighed a hard-to-explain 780 million times the mass of the sun.

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This quasar was first identified in data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) program, then studied in closer detail by scientists using Carnegie Observatories' Magellan telescopes in Chile. FIRE is a spectrometer that classifies objects based on their infrared spectra. In the coming years, astronomers hope to find more.

No one's sure exactly how those processes might happen, but researchers plan to look for more, similar deep-space objects to test their theories. After hundreds of millions of years, young stars or quasars emitted enough light to strip the electrons back off these atoms, dissipating the cosmic fog like mist at dawn.

Scientists were surprised by the black hole's tremendous mass, 800 million times the mass of the sun.

Distant quasars are valuable sources of information about the early universe. As the universe expanded in size, those particles cooled down, and as they did they formed into a neutral hydrogen gas during which it was completely dark. The ionization of the cosmos' gas allowed light to move more freely through space.

But now that they have found one nestled inside a quasar, there could be dozens more of these ancient and massive objects in the skies around us. Nearly all the hydrogen atoms we've observed in intergalactic space have lost their electrons, giving them a positive charge. "We now have the most accurate measurements to date of when the first stars were turning on". This means that the early universe likely was conducive to the quick formation of supermassive black holes; our current universe isn't, and black holes are generally much smaller.

An artist's impression of the supermassive black hole.

The quasar formed when the universe was just 690 million years old.

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