Researchers have spotted the most distant supermassive black hole ever spied from Earth, one that has a mass 800 million times greater than the mass of our own Sun. According to the team, this supermassive black hole’s light comes from when the universe was only 5% as old as it is now. The black hole is located in a luminous quasar from 690 million years after the Big Bang, shedding some light on the early universe.
Researchers explain that black holes forming in the modern universe don’t often grow beyond the scope of “a few dozen solar masses.” However, the discovery of a supermassive black hole that reached such a huge size so close to the Big Bang, relatively speaking, indicates that the earliest parts of the universe could have offered conditions for black holes that reached up to 100,000 times the Sun’s mass.
Of note is the Bañados quasar where the black hole was discovered; researchers explain that it comes from a time when the universe was emerging from its dark ages, literally — the epoch of reionization. Following its formation, it took the quasar’s light in excess of 13 billion years to reach Earth, something determined by its redshift measurement.
The redshift measurement is 7.54, making it the second of only two known quasars with a redshift above 7. Researchers estimate there are as many as 100 more quasars with the same degree of distance and brightness as this one; assuming there are a full 100 of them, that would still make the Bañados quasar an exceptional discovery.
Talking about the discovery is NASA JPL’s Daniel Stern, who said:
This is a very exciting discovery, found by scouring the new generation of wide-area, sensitive surveys astronomers are conducting using NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer in orbit and ground-based telescopes in Chile and Hawaii. With several next-generation, even-more-sensitive facilities currently being built, we can expect many exciting discoveries in the very early universe in the coming years.