The black hole was discovered through an exhaustive search of a tent of the sky - and a series of cutting-edge tools to look into the cosmic dawn, when the first galaxies and stars were formed from the Big Bang.
The most interesting aspect of this supermassive black hole is its age - it's 13 billion light years away, which scientists determined via redshift.
Several astronomical institutions today (December 6, 2017) are announcing the most-distant-yet luminous quasar, containing the most-distant-yet supermassive black hole.
"This is the only object we have observed from this era", says Robert Simcoe, the Francis L. Friedman Professor of Physics in MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. "Only one quasar was known to exist at a redshift greater than seven before now, despite extensive searching", said Xiaohui Fan of the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory. The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big. 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. This shift from neutral to ionized hydrogen represented a fundamental change in the universe that has persisted to this day.
But there's a problem with the finding: the black hole appears to be far too big for its age.
"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", Simcoe says.
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The find is described in the journal Nature.
In a study published in Nature, an global team of scientists has now found the most distant (therefore earliest) quasar ever discovered.
Reionization, black hole evolution, galaxy evolution - even with these first observations, the newly discovered quasar has given astronomers key information about cosmic history. FIRE is a spectrometer that classifies objects based on their infrared spectra. That means the light from this quasar has been traveling our way for more than 13 billion years.
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.
It lived at a time shortly after clouds of energetic particles cooled into nitrogen gas, when the universe was only just inventing the idea of stars. The galaxy, for its age and time period, is far more rich in metals than it should be, considering the first generation of stars were comprised nearly entirely of hydrogen and helium. Eventually, gravity condensed matter into the first stars and galaxies, which in turn produced light in the form of photons. Afterwards, the light moves through the hydrogen fairly freely. "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". Whether they're ripping through the universe at thousands of miles a second or potentially serving as portals to alternate realities, physicists amateur and professional alike remain fascinated with them. That helped scientists estimate that the stars turned on roughly when it began its journey - about 696 million years after the big bang. "We now have the most accurate measurements to date of when the first stars were turning on". They want to know what burned the fog away: stars, supermassive black holes, or both in tandem?
It had reached its size just 690 million years after the point beyond which there is nothing.