Astrophysicists have found an out-of-place supermassive black hole -- 12 billion times more enormous than the sun -- that mysteriously formed when the cosmos was less than 900 million years old.
Such behemoths are usually found in the more modern cosmos, which seemingly offers more feeding material. Black holes are areas of space so condensed with matter that not even photons of light can discharge their gravitational fists. They are sensed as they pull and eat neighbouring stars and dust, making a cosmic zoo of noticeable phenomenon, such gas jets and rapidly spinning accretion disks.
“Before this finding the most enormous black hole identified within 1 billion years after the Big Bang was about 5 billion solar mass, less than half the mass of the new discovery,” Bram Venemans, research staff researcher with Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, wrote in an email to Discovery News.
The finding, reported in this week’s Nature, offers a serious challenge to theories about how black holes grew in the early cosmos.
Researchers previously expected young black holes started off with between 100 and 100,000 times the mass of the sun and matured from there by consuming in intergalactic matter and/or merging with other black holes.
“It may need either very extraordinary ways to grow the black hole within a very short time, or the presence of a huge seed black hole when the first generation of stars and galaxies formed,” lead scientist Xue-Bing Wu, with China’s Peking University in Beijing, said in an email to Discovery News.
Neither clarification fits with present theories.
“A very stimulating feature of this work is that the outcomes hint that in the early cosmos the supermassive black holes and their host galaxies did not co-evolve,” said astrophysicist Akos Bogdan, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., who was not involved in the study.
It is improbable the black hole’s parent galaxy would be as big as what calculations based on existing theories would conclude. “This would propose that -- at least in this case -- the black hole is developing faster than the galaxy, questioning the often expected co-evolution of galaxies and their central black holes through cosmic time,” added Venemans. The newly discovered black hole exists in in an enormously bright quasar that existed when the cosmos was about 857 million years old – about 6% of the cosmos’s current 13.8-billion-year age.
“We can comparatively easily sense this object because it is brighter than others at the same distance,” Wu said.
Observations with numerous ground- and space-based telescopes carry on, as well as a search for any comparable giant siblings.
“These objects are so far away from us so most of them look (very) faint even if their inherent brightness is large,” Wu said.