This week, astronomers announced that they had discovered the most distant quasar and earliest known supermassive black hole ever found, and the quasar that was discovered took them back as close as humans have been to the Big Bang.
As CNN reported, “This quasar is a thousand times more luminous than our Milky Way galaxy, and it’s powered by the earliest known supermassive black hole. The light from this quasar took more than 13 billion years to reach Earth, and astronomers were able to observe it as the quasar appeared just 670 million years after the Big Bang.”
Many scientists currently believe that after the Big Bang, atoms could not interact and form stars and galaxies, as they were too far from one another. But roughly 400 hundred million years after the Big Bang came the Epoch of Reionization, in which stars and galaxies were formed.
“The process of forming a quasar likely begins when a supermassive star collapses into a ‘normal’ stellar black hole at the end of its life,” James Maynard explained on Medium. “Over time, black holes can merge, eventually forming supermassive black holes. With a steady supply of material, these objects can outshine brighter than their home galaxies.”
Quasars, powered by black holes, create gas and dust when gas enters them; that gas and dust then emits electromagnetic energy. Jets emerging from the quasars emit gas and dust which then form stars. The recently-discovered quasar, J0313-1806, has a black hole engine twice the size of the largest one yet discovered.
“This supermassive black hole is seen radiating vast quantities of radiation when the Universe was just five percent of the current age of the Cosmos,” Maynard wrote. “This body is 20 million light years more distant than the previous record-holder for the most distant quasar known, discovered just three years ago.”
Xiaohui Fan, study coauthor and regents professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona, stated, “The most distant quasars are crucial for understanding how the earliest black holes formed and for understanding cosmic reionization — the last major phase transition of our Universe,” adding, “We think those supermassive black holes were the reason why many of the big galaxies stopped forming stars at some point.”
Feige Wang, lead study author and NASA Hubble fellow at the University of Arizona, stated, “This is the earliest evidence of how a supermassive black hole is affecting the galaxy around it. 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.”
“Black holes created by the very first massive stars could not have grown this large in only a few hundred million years,” Wang added, concluding: “This would be a great target to investigate the formation of the earliest supermassive black holes. We also hope to learn more about the effect of quasar outflows on their host galaxy — as well as to learn how the most massive galaxies formed in the early Universe.”
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