Scientists found the oldest known black hole, and it’s a monster


The conception of an artist of the most distant supermbadive black hole ever discovered, which is part of a quasar just 690 million years after the Big Bang. (Robin Dienel / Carnegie Institution for Science)

Eduardo Bañados had three nights to discover something that could not even exist: a supermbadive black hole near the beginning of time.

At the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, perched on top of a mountain in the driest desert in the world, he scanned the signature of a mbadive, invisible sink in the sky sucking a whirlwind of bright, hot matter.

Just before dawn on the third night, he found it. At the limit of the observable universe, a black hole rose 800 million times more mbadive than the sun. The signal had traveled more than 13 billion light years in time and space to reach the Bañados telescope.

In an article published in the journal Nature Wednesday, Bañados and his colleagues report that their new finding is the oldest black and distant hole discovered.

The size of the object is surprising, Bañados said, because it existed only 690 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was only 5 percent of its current age and still emerged from an enigmatic era known as "Age." Dark. "

That such a large black hole can exist so early in time will form models of how black holes are formed. And it will offer a vision of the first difficult years of studying the universe.

"If the universe were a person of 50 years," explained Bañados. "Now we have a picture of that person when he was a little boy." . . when they were two and a half years old. "

The Middle Ages began just a few hundred thousand years after the Big Bang, once the suspension of hot particles that made up the early universe condensed into atoms.The universe was getting bigger and colder in this period , filled with a fog without distinctive features of hydrogen gas, there were no galaxies, stars or supernovae (appearing when the stars explode), nothing that released the light, the only form of radiation was a very weak glow of hydrogen. [19659003] This situation lasted for hundreds of millions of years, however, at some point during this inscrutable period, the universe arose as we know it.The gravity extracted hydrogen in the first gas clouds, from which the first stars were born. the newly formed objects broke the hydrogen atoms in their constituent particles, protons and electrons, finally dissipating the cold fog. , called "reionization" because the previously neutral hydrogen atoms became electrically charged ions, was the last great transition in the history of the universe. The understanding of the reionization era, said Bañados, is one of the "borders of astrophysics."

The absence of light sources during the Middle Ages makes it difficult to test this period with telescopes. Hydrogen fog complicates things even more. Bañados says that it is as if someone revised the photo album of the childhood of the universe and pulled out all the images of their most formative years.

But studying the behavior of the first quasars of the universe: luminous swirls of ultra-fast particles that move supermbadive black holes rapidly in the center of galaxies, could shed some light on this inscrutable age.

That hope is what led Bañados, an astronomer at the Carnegie Observatories in California, to the top of the Chilean mountain in March. It was not entirely clear if he would be able to find a quasar so far away. The supermbadive black holes swallow large amounts of matter, squeezing the equivalent mbad of several hundred thousand suns into a space so small that gravity wraps around it like an invisibility cloak and causes it to fade. An object like that needs a lot of time to grow and more material than it could have been available in the young universe.

But the object that Bañados and his colleagues discovered, called ULAS J1342 + 0928, was even larger than they had negotiated for – suggesting that something might have caused black holes to grow more quickly. Scientists still do not know the underlying reasons for such rapid growth, or if there are still older black holes waiting to be found.

"This is what we are trying to promote," Bañados said. "At some point, these should not exist." When is that point? We still do not know. "

In a companion article published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, scientists report another strange finding: the galaxy where ULAS J1342 + 0928 lives was generating new stars" like crazy, "said Bañados. Sun was emerging 100 times more frequently than in our current galaxy.

"To build stars you need dust," Bañados said. "But it is really difficult to form all this dust in such a short time on cosmic scales, that requires generations of supernovas to explode. "

During the toddler years of the universe, there had not been time for several rounds of life and dying, so where do the ingredients come from for all these new stars?

Observations of light which comes from the quasar point to a third curiosity: This object lived when approximately half of the hydrogen in the universe was still neutral. or place it just right in the middle of the reionization era, when the light of the first celestial objects burned the fog of the Middle Ages.

"Maybe we are exploring the region where the first stars and galaxies were formed," Bañados said. The quasar "is basically a gold mine for follow-up studies of this 2 1/2 year universe."

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