Декабря 14, 2017


Farthest-ever supermassive black hole reveals the early universe

07 Декабря 2017, 07:44 | Kevin Scott

Farthest-ever supermassive black hole reveals the early universe

Astronomers Find the Earliest Supermassive Black Hole Ever Discovered

Quasars are incredibly bright objects deep in the cosmos, powered by black holes devouring everything around them.

A team led by the Carnegie Observatories' Eduardo Banados reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday that the black hole lies in a quasar dating to 690 million years of the Big Bang.

Space.com has a look at a supermassive black hole (a black hole millions of times larger than the sun) that's extremely, extremely old.

Astronomers have found the monster black hole, almost as old as the universe itself, chewing through clouds.

"This actually suggests we've measured, to within one or two percent accuracy, the moment at which starlight first illuminated the universe", says Dr. Robert Simcoe, a physics professor at MIT and one of the authors of the study. "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.

Black holes are a big mystery.

The newly discovered quasar adds a crucial data point: Its light shows that a significant fraction of hydrogen was still neutral 690 million years after the Big Bang. This shift from neutral to ionized hydrogen represented a fundamental change in the universe that has persisted to this day. They want to know what burned the fog away: stars, supermassive black holes, or both in tandem?

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The quasar formed when the universe was just 690 million years old. "This is the most accurate measurement of that time, and a real indication of when the first stars turned on".

The Carnegie Institution for Science is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. There, a spectrometer known as the Folded-port InfraRed Echellette (FIRE) was able to determine the objects' distance and mass based on its "redshift". That means the light from this quasar has been traveling our way for more than 13 billion years. Then, the neutral hydrogen was ionized by the first quasars, which are supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies.

The newly identified quasar appears to inhabit a pivotal moment in the universe's history. 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. In black holes, gravity has such a strong pull that not even light can escape.

"This object gives us a picture of how the universe was when it was only five percent of its present age", Bañados says.

It's not the brightest or most massive - that honor belongs to a quasar called SDSS J0100+2802, which boasts barely-comprehensible stats like a mass of 12 billion Suns, and a luminosity of 420 trillion Suns. That helped scientists estimate that the stars turned on roughly when it began its journey - about 696 million years after the big bang. Explaining how such a massive black hole could have formed in such a comparatively short amount of available time is a challenge for models of supermassive black hole formation, and effectively rules out some of those models. It's thought that black holes grow by accreting, or absorbing mass from the surrounding environment.

These larger black holes have had more time to grow in the hearts of galaxies since the Big Bang, compared with the young one just observed.

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