NASA has announced that astronomers have discovered evidence of the farthest “cloaked” black hole that has been discovered so far. The discovery was made using the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The astronomers have pegged the cloaked black hole at only 6% of the current age of the universe.
NASA says that this is the first indication of a black hole hidden by gas at such an early time in the history of the universe. Supermassive black holes are millions to billions of times more massive than our Sun and typically grow by sucking in matter from a disk of the surrounding material. Scientist says that current theories of black holes believe that dense clouds of gas feed material into the disk surrounding the supermassive black hole during its early growth phase.
The rapid growth generates large amounts of radiation in a very small region around the black hole and is known as a quasar. That dense cloud of gas “cloaks” or hides much of the brightness of the quasar from our view. As the black hole consumes the material and becomes more massive, the gas in the cloud is depleted until its bright disk is uncovered.
The team says that it is very difficult to find quasars in the cloaked phase because so much of the radiation is absorbed and can’t be detected by current instruments. The new cloaked finding came from observations of a quasar called PSO167-13 that was first discovered by Pan-STARRS, an optical-light telescope in Hawaii. The team used Chandra to observe PSO167-13 and found that after 16 hours of observations, only three X-ray light photons were detected, all with relatively high energies.
The team says that low-energy X-rays are more easily absorbed than higher energy ones. They believe the reason only three high-energy X-ray light photons were seen was that the quasar is highly obscured by gas, allowing only high-energy X-rays to be detected.