Astronomers have discovered an ancient black hole that is 12 billion times more massive than the sun. The gargantuan black hole, which was formed 900 million years after the Big Bang, is so far the largest of its kind that was discovered from such an early period.
Bram Venemans from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany said that prior to the discovery of this black hole, the most massive one from within 1 billion years after the beginning of the universe was about 5 billion solar mass, which is less than half the mass of the newly discovered black hole.
Besides being the biggest black hole to be discovered, it was also located at the center of the largest known quasar dubbed by the astronomers as DSS J0100+2802. Quasars are the universe's brightest and most powerful objects emitting vast amounts of energy as the black hole at their center sucks matter from the surroundings.
The newly found quasar is located 12.8 billion light-years away from the Earth. Interestingly, it was initially overlooked because while it has some traits that characterize a quasar, scientists found it too bright. Thus, it was originally on the list of so-called borderline candidates. It was only confirmed as a quasar once scientists looked at the data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission.
Compared with the black hole that is found at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, which is only about 4 million to 5 million times as massive as the sun, the newly detected black hole at the center of DSS J0100+2802 is 12 billion times as massive, and its existence poses challenges to theories of how black holes, stars and galaxies evolved.
"The existence of such black holes when the universe was less than 1 billion years old presents substantial challenges to theories of the formation and growth of black holes and the co-evolution of black holes and galaxies," the researchers wrote in their study.
It is previously believed that young black holes start off about 100 to 100,000 times the mass of the sun then grow in size when they merge with other black holes or when they suck in interstellar matters. Thus, it takes time before black holes become super massive. Scientists said that given the black hole's age, it is far more massive than anything that has been seen so far.
The researchers in particular are baffled as to how such as super massive black hole has formed in a relatively short time.
"This ultraluminous quasar with its super massive black hole provides a unique laboratory to the study of the mass assembly and galaxy formation around the most massive black holes in the early universe," said study researcher Xiaohui Fan from the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona.