Supermassive black hole is the most distant one ever spotted
07 December, 2017, 03:46 | Author: Darnell Taylor
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. 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.
Astronomers have at least two gnawing questions about the first billion years of the universe, an era steeped in literal fog and figurative mystery.
A team led by Eduardo Bañados, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Pasadena, found the new black hole by searching through old data for objects with the right color to be ultradistant quasars - the visible signatures of supermassive black holes swallowing gas.
The new quasar is itself one of the first galaxies, and yet it already harbors a behemoth black hole as massive as others in the present-day universe!
This quasar is especially interesting because it comes from a time when the universe was just beginning to emerge from its dark ages. If it is located in a denser than average part of the universe, it could get an earlier start in life and grow more quickly.
The matter-munching sinkhole is a whopping 13 billion light-years away, so far that we see it as it was a mere 690 million years after the Big Bang.
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The galaxy ULAS J1120+0641-and its supermassive black hole-appear just 690 million years after the Big Bang during a time in the universe known as the Epoch of Reionization. When you think of a black hole, you're likely thinking of a stellar black hole, which forms when a star explodes in a spectacular supernova, and the remaining core collapses under the weight of its own gravity. Once the universe became reionized, photons could travel freely throughout space, thus the universe became transparent to light.
In order to discover these rare distant quasars I am mining various large sky surveys including Pan-STARRS1 and WISE. From this, they inferred that stars must have begun turning on during this time, 690 million years after the Big Bang.
"This adds to our understanding of our universe at large because we've identified that moment of time when the universe is in the middle of this very rapid transition from neutral to ionized", said Professor Simcoe. 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. This tug-of-war creates an effective speed limit for black hole growth called the Eddington rate. It's thought that black holes grow by accreting, or absorbing mass from the surrounding environment.
"Withseveral next-generation, even-more-sensitive facilities currentlybeing built, we can expect many exciting discoveries in the very earlyuniverse in the coming years", Stern said. "So there must be another way that it formed".
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.
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