Scientists discover most distant super massive black hole

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It was made by Eduardo Bañados, of the Carnegie Institution for Science, using the institution's 6.5 meter Magellan telescopes in Chile, and made use of astronomical survey data such as that NASA's WISE infrared space telescope.

"This adds to our understanding of our universe at large because we've identified that moment of time when the universe is in the middle of this very rapid transition from neutral to ionized", Simcoe says.

The astronomer who found the odd black hole said that there's no way of explaining how a black hole would be able to pick up such mass, and that it might challenge out current understandings of how black holes form.

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The discovery of a massive black hole so early in the universe may provide key clues on conditions at that time, which allowed for huge black holes to form. In black holes, gravity has such a strong pull that not even light can escape. Some hundreds of millions of years later, the energetic ultraviolet radiation of the first stars and the accretion disks of the first black holes reionized almost all of the hydrogen in the universe, separating the electrons from the hydrogen nuclei (protons).

Scientists predict the sky contains between 20 and 100 quasars as bright and as distant as this quasar.

"This actually suggests we've measured, to within one or two percent accuracy, the moment at which starlight first illuminated the universe", says Dr. Robert Simcoe, a physics professor at MIT and one of the authors of the study.

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The thing is a deep-space enigma: researchers are baffled how a black hole could have gotten so massive within several hundred million years of the Big Bang.

The discovery, announced Wednesday, was of a supermassive black hole with 800 million solar masses which resides in a bright quasar, the light from where took 13 billion years to reach Earth. This black hole was seen devouring material at the center of a galaxy. This quasar has a bolometric luminosity of 4×10L⊙ and a black hole mass of 8×10M⊙. It's a glimpse into what the earliest universe was like.

"What we have found is that the universe was about 50/50 - it's a moment when the first galaxies emerged from their cocoons of neutral gas and started to shine their way out", Simcoe says. As more stars formed from the remains of first-generation stars, they became "polluted" with heavier elements and in turn produce even heavier elements when they explode in supernovae. "They're rare, but they're very much there, and we need to figure out how they form", said Priyamvada Natarajan, an astrophysicist at Yale University who was not part of the research team. Follow-up observations, as well as a search for similar quasars, are on track to put our picture of early cosmic history onto a solid footing. From this, they inferred that stars must have begun turning on during this time, 690 million years after the Big Bang. This means that the early universe likely was conducive to the quick formation of supermassive black holes; our current universe isn't, and black holes are generally much smaller. But this newly-discovered black hole is more than 200 million lightyears further away - and hence, 200 million years older.

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