Astronomers have discovered the oldest and farthest supermassive black hole known to science, and it boasts of a size that is 800 million times that of the sun.
There may be other supermassive black holes that are even older and farther than this new discovery. However, until then, astronomers have their work cut out for them in trying to understand what the discovery means for all of us.
The Oldest And Farthest Supermassive Black Hole
Supermassive black holes, which are black holes that are millions and sometimes even billions of times larger than the sun, are believed to be lurking in the hearts of most galaxies. Researchers proposed that these giant bodies release massive amounts of light as they devour matter and stars. These black holes are likely the source of quasars, which are known as some of the brightest things in the entire universe.
The existence of quasar J1342+0928 reinforces the early models on the growth of black holes, according to a study published on the journal Nature. The quasar is 13.1 billion light-years away, making the supermassive black hole where it came from the farthest and oldest known one in history. Astronomers are seeing the black hole as it appeared when the universe was only 690 million years old.
Eduardo Bañados, the lead author of the study and an astrophysicist from Pasadena's Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, said that the quasar was so bright that many follow-up studies will be based on it. Several observations on the quasar have already been secured using the world's most powerful telescopes, and Bañados is hoping that the observations will reveal some surprising looks into the early universe.
"Already we can learn a lot about the early Universe with this one, but of course you want more," said Bram Venemans, who was part of the team that discovered the quasar and a black hole researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.
What Does The Black Hole Tell Us?
The supermassive black hole provides astronomers a window into a mysterious time near the start of the universe. One of the biggest questions is how something so massive could have formed just 690 million years following the Big Bang, when the age of the universe was just 5 percent of currently how old it is.
"Now that we are seeing it, we have to explain it," said Bañados. "And that is a big challenge for theorists right now," he admitted, as astronomers get to work on explaining how the monster black hole was created.