08Dec2017

Most Distant Known Supermassive Black Hole Found

Astronomers Find Supermassive Black Hole 12 Billion Times Size of the Sun

Astronomers Find Supermassive Black Hole 12 Billion Times Size of the Sun

An international group of astronomers has discovered and measured the distance to the most distant supermassive black hole ever found. The newly-discovered black hole sits in the center of the ultrabright quasar J1342+0928.

The light from this enigmatic object was emitted just 690 million years after the Big Bang. That light has taken about 13 billion years to reach us — a span of time that is nearly equal to the age of the Universe. “This great distance makes such objects extremely faint when viewed from Earth,” said team member Dr. Xiaohui Fan, from the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory.

“Early quasars are also very rare on the sky. Only one quasar was known to exist at a redshift greater than seven before now, despite extensive searching.” The giant black hole has a mass of approximately 800 million solar masses — a Goliath by modern-day standards and a relative anomaly in the early Universe. The discovery was made with data from the DECam Legacy Survey (DECaLS) that is being carried out with the CTIO Blanco telescope.

“Gathering all this mass in fewer than 690 million years is an enormous challenge for theories of supermassive black hole growth,” said team leader Dr. Eduardo Bañados, from Carnegie Observatories. To grow black holes that big so soon after the Big Bang, astronomers have speculated that the very early Universe might have had conditions allowing the creation of very large black holes with masses reaching 100,000 times the mass of the Sun.

This is very unlike the black holes that form in the present-day Universe, which rarely exceed a few dozen solar masses. “Quasars are among the brightest and most-distant known celestial objects and are crucial to understanding the early Universe,” said team member Dr. Bram Venemans, from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.

J1342+0928 is especially interesting, because it is from the time known as the Epoch of Reionization, when the Universe emerged from its dark ages. “The Big Bang started the Universe as a hot, murky soup of extremely energetic particles that was rapidly expanding. As it expanded, it cooled. About 400,000 years later (very quickly on a cosmic scale), these particles cooled and coalesced into neutral hydrogen gas,” the astronomers said.

Artist’s conception of the most-distant supermassive black hole ever discovered, which is part of ULAS J134208.10+092838.61, a quasar from just 690 million years after the Big Bang. It is surrounded by neutral hydrogen, indicating that it is from the period called the Epoch of Reionization, when the Universe’s first light sources turned on. Image credit: Robin Dienel / Carnegie Institution for Science.

Artist’s conception of the most-distant supermassive black hole ever discovered- a quasar from just 690 million years after the Big Bang. Surrounded by neutral hydrogen, indicating that it is from the period called the Epoch of Reionization, when the Universe’s first light sources turned on. Image credit: Robin Dienel / Carnegie Institution for Science.

“The Universe stayed dark, without any luminous sources, until gravity condensed matter into the first stars and galaxies. The energy released by these ancient galaxies caused the neutral hydrogen strewn throughout the Universe to get excited and ionize, or lose an electron, a state that the gas has remained in since that time. Once the Universe became reionzed, photons could travel freely throughout space, thus the Universe became transparent to light.”

The scientists believe that the newly-discovered supermassive black hole existed in an environment that was about half neutral, half ionized. “What we have found is that the Universe was about 50/50 — it’s a moment when the first galaxies emerged from their cocoons of neutral gas and started to shine their way out,” said team member Professor Robert Simcoe, of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

“This is the most accurate measurement of that time, and a real indication of when the first stars turned on.” “It was the Universe’s last major transition and one of the current frontiers of astrophysics,” Dr. Bañados said. A paper reporting this discovery is published in the journal Nature. Source:  Sci-News.com

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