Chinese researchers have spotted an ancient black hole that is 12 billion times bigger than the mass of the Sun and belonging to ancient age of 900 million years after the Big Bang.
Black holes with their massive gravitation pull are so dense that not even light can escape them and are formed when massive stars collapse swallowing nearby stars, or sometimes merge with other black holes.
The object, discovered by astronomers in 2013, is 6 times larger than its largest-known contemporaries. Its existence challenges theories of the evolution of black holes, stars and galaxies, the researchers said.
Light from the black hole took 12.9 billion years to reach the Earth, so astronomers calculate it to be 875 million years after the Big Bang.
“That is actually a very short time for a black hole to have grown so large,” said astronomer Xue-Bing Wu of Peking University in Beijing who led an international collaboration that discovered it.
For its age, this black hole “is really much more massive than anything else we have seen so far”, added Christian Veillet, director of the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory in Tucson, Arizona.
“How do you build such a big black hole in such a short time?,” asks Xue-Bing Wu , whose study has been published in Nature.
The black hole, visible due to its superheated gas jets and a rapidly spinning accretion disk, was spotted by the Lijiang Telescope in Yunnan, China.
Based on the study of the light from the quasar that was 40,000 times brighter than the entire Milky Way, Chinese scientists calculated the age of the black hole as 12.9 billion years old and would have formed when the universe was just 6 percent of its current age.
So far, roughly 40 quasars with redshifts greater than z = 6 have been discovered and each quasar contains a black hole with a mass of about one billion solar masses.
The object, discovered by astronomers in 2013, was fpormed when the Universe was less than one billion years old and poses substantial challenge to theories of the formation and growth of black holes and the coevolution of black holes and galaxies.
“It (the black hole) must have been accreting gas at close to the maximum rate for most of its existence,” said Bram Venemans of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, who was not involved in the study. The black hole might have begun its life with the collapse of multiple stars including a very large gas cloud, the researchers said.
However, black holes are still a big puzzle for the science community. “We are still very uncertain as to the modes of black-hole formation and growth in the early Universe,” said Chris Willott, an astronomer at the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre in Victoria.