Published: Fri, December 08, 2017
Research | By Jennifer Evans

Massive black hole reveals when the first stars blinked on

Massive black hole reveals when the first stars blinked on

The monster black hole looks to be about 800 million times as massive as our sun, and astronomers can't understand how such a behemoth could have already formed just 690 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was just 5 percent of its current age. So, this object was seen just at the edge of what we can see, looking that far back in time and space.

Scientists are baffled how she could reach such large sizes in such a short time.

Robert Simcoe who is a study author of MIT, said "this is the only object we have observed from this era". In this black hole of extremely high mass, and given that the universe is quite young, it simply should not exist.

At the center of a distant galaxy, scientists have found the oldest black hole ever discovered, and it's so freaky it's posing some perplexing questions. Matter such as gas falling onto the black hole will form an ultra-hot accretion disk before falling in, making the whole setup one of the most luminous objects in the universe: a quasar. More and more stars were forming, eventually generating enough radiation to flip hydrogen from neutral (in which electrons are bound to the nucleus) to ionized (in which electrons are freer to interact). The stars and interstellar dust are dominated by carbon, but heavier materials like magnesium, silicon, and nitrogen are also seen accreting into the black hole at the center. "It's a dream come true that all of these data are coming along", said Avi Loeb, the chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University.

A team led by Carnegie Observatories' Eduardo Banados published the discovery Wednesday in the journal Nature. FIRE is a spectrometer that classifies objects based on their infrared spectra.

Distant quasars are valuable sources of information about the early universe. Astronomers refer to this Doppler-like phenomenon as "redshift"; the more distant an object, the farther its light has shifted toward the red, or infrared end of the spectrum. That helped scientists estimate that the stars turned on roughly when it began its journey - about 696 million years after the big bang.

It's a truly gargantuan black hole, some 800 million times the mass of our sun.

A newly discovered quasar, known as J1342+0928, is now challenging that idea, though. For some time, the universe was "cloudy" with neutral hydrogen, creating a dense fog that blocked most light. After gravity condensed matter, the first stars and galaxies were formed. Stars then switched on and reacted with the swirling hydrogen, beginning of process of re-ionization. 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. In this approach, collapsing clouds in the early universe gave birth to overgrown baby black holes that weighed thousands or tens of thousands of solar masses.

"We're talking 690 million years" after the Big Bang, said Gemini spokesman Peter Michaud. "We now have the most accurate measurements to date of when the first stars were turning on".

Geballe said that makes it 200 times more massive than the black hole at the center of our galaxy, prompting the question: How did it get so big so fast?

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