Just 670 million years after the Big Bang, a quasar with a monstrous black hole appeared in a growing galaxy.
J0313-1806 is the most distant black hole ever discovered. Found in a dark corner of space more than 13.03 billion light-years away, the quasar contains in its center a supermassive black hole 1.6 billion times more massive than the Sun. At this distance, J0313-1806 becomes the record holder, becoming the earliest black hole, dethroning the previous champion J1342 + 0928, which was discovered in 2017 and existed when the universe was only 690 million years old.
The discovery, announced during the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society on Tuesday, helps shed light on the processes of the ancient universe. But like any good astrophysics story, it leaves researchers with a number of puzzling questions.
Quasars are extremely bright objects — the brightest in the universe. They lie at the center of galaxies, but at their own center is a supermassive black hole, millions or billions of times more massive than the Sun. The strong gravity surrounding the black hole traps gas and dust and potentially even rips stars apart, leaving a trail of debris on the disk that surrounds it. The debris rotates at incredible speeds and emits enormous amounts of energy that observers on Earth can see in the electromagnetic spectrum as bright light.
Astronomers were able to detect the quasar using several ground-based observatories, including ALMA in Chile and two observatories on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The observations allowed the researchers to confirm the distance with high accuracy and to study some properties of the supermassive black hole at the center of the quasar. According to their calculations, the mass of the black hole is about 1.6 billion times the mass of the Sun, but this is unusual. Since a black hole cannot be older than 670 million years, traditional theories of black hole growth cannot explain its size in such a short period of time.
The finding is published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.