Astronomers have discovered the most distant ever supermassive black hole. Called J0313-1806, the supermassive black hole is in a quasar that is located more than 13 billion light-years away from us. And the black hole is so gigantic that it is 1.6 billion times larger than our sun.
A quasar is the brightest object in the entire universe and is located at the center of a galaxy. Inside of a quasar lies a supermassive black hole which is millions to billions times larger than a sun. Since black holes contain exceptional amounts of gravity that catches dust and gas (and can even tear apart stars), a circle of debris rotates around the black hole at very high speeds that emit gigantic amounts of energy that can be seen from Earth as a bright light. And J0313-1806 is incredibly bright as it is approximately a thousand times brighter than our Milky Way Galaxy.
Astronomers detected the quasar by using several observatories such as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile as well as two observatories in Hawaii that are located on Mauna Kea. After its detection, the experts were then able to determine its distance from us and were even able to study its supermassive black hole.
While this discovery is truly fascinating, it also raises quite a few questions. For example, since it formed when the universe was just 670 million years old, it contradicts the previous understanding of how they grow – it wouldn’t have been possible for a black hole of that gigantic size to have formed in such a short amount of time.
Xiaohui Fan, who is an astronomer at the University of Arizona and an author of the study, explained this in further detail, “In order for the black hole to have grown to the size we see with J0313-1806, it would have to have started out with a seed black hole of at least 10,000 solar masses.” “That would only be possible in the direct collapse scenario.” Instead of stars collapsing into the black hole, it may have been large amounts of cold hydrogen gas.
And it’s not finished growing as the experts believe that the black hole eats up the equivalent of 25 solar masses each year, according to spectral data that they collected. “These quasars presumably are still in the process of building their supermassive black holes,” noted Fan.
Feige Wang, who is an astronomer at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory and another author of the study, weighed in by stating, “This is the earliest evidence of how a supermassive black hole is affecting its host galaxy around it,” adding, “From observations of less distant galaxies, we know that this has to happen, but we have never seen it happening so early in the universe.” An artist’s impression of what J0313-1806 may look like can be seen here.
The study is available to read on arXiv.