An international team of astronomers has discovered the most distant quasar yet. The quasar is known as J0313-1806, and it’s so distant it’s seen as it was when the universe was only 670 million years old. The discovery gives scientists worldwide valuable insights into how massive galaxies and the supermassive black holes in their core formed in the early universe.
J0313-1806 is 13 billion light-years from Earth and is powered by a supermassive black hole that is over 1.6 billion times more massive than the Sun and is 1000 times brighter than the entire Milky Way galaxy. The quasar’s distance was confirmed with high precision using ALMA in Chile. Quasars form when the incredibly powerful gravity of a supermassive black hole in the core of a galaxy draws in surrounding material, creating an orbiting disc of superheated material around the black hole.
The process releases vast amounts of energy, making the quasar extremely bright. Often, the quasar outshines the entire galaxy. J0313-1806’s central black hole is twice as massive as the black hole in the previous record holder. Researcher Feige Wang says that this is the earliest evidence of how a supermassive black hole affects the galaxy around it.
Wang says that scientists knew this had to happen from observations of less distant galaxies, but it has never been observed happening so early in the universe. The mass of the black hole at the center of J0313-1806 so early in the universe’s history rules out two theoretical models for how the objects form.
In the first of those models, individual massive stars explode into supernovae collapsing into black holes that coalesce into larger black holes. The second model theorized that dense clusters of stars collapse into a massive black hole. However, both theories utilize processes that take too long to produce a black hole as massive as J0313-1806 at the age we see it from Earth.