Scientists just found a very huge, very young supermassive black hole. The black hole formed only 690 million years after the Big Bang - aka, when the universe was just 5 percent of its current age, NPR writes. But what's of particular note is its mass, which the Gemini telescope atop Maunakea confirmed is 800 million times that of our sun.
Quasars are among the brightest and most-distant known celestial objects and are crucial to understanding the early universe, said study co-author Bram Venemans of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.
The black hole is even more puzzling because of what was happening in the universe at that time.
"The most distant quasars can provide key insights to outstanding questions in astrophysics", Space.com quoted the study lead author Eduardo Bañados, an astrophysicist at the Carnegie Institution for Science as saying. That light has taken about 13 billion years to reach us - a span of time that is almost equal to the age of the universe. Most are dormant, and thus are only "seen" by how their enormous gravity affects the objects around them. "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".
Quasars are powered by supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies - in this case, a black hole with nearly a billion times the mass of the Sun.
Once matter came together via gravity to form galaxies and stars, the energy released by these early objects ionized the neutral hydrogen, a reaction that allowed photons to travel and make space a transparent space in which we can look in, around and back into time. It dates back to 690 million years after the Big Bang.
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.
Much bigger black holes are out there, but none so far away - at least among those found so far.
"Something is causing gas within the quasar to move around at very high speed, and the only phenomenon we know that achieves such speeds is orbit around a supermassive black hole", Simcoe says. 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.
Distant quasars are valuable sources of information about the early universe. From this, they inferred that stars must have begun turning on during this time, 690 million years after the Big Bang. Follow-up observations, as well as a search for similar quasars, are on track to put our picture of early cosmic history onto a solid footing. It's thought that black holes grow by accreting, or absorbing mass from the surrounding environment.