Scientists observe supermassive black hole in infant universe

December 6, 2017, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Artist's conceptions of the most-distant supermassive black hole ever discovered, which is part of a quasar from just 690 million years after the Big Bang. It is surrounded by neutral hydrogen, indicating that it is from the period called the epoch of reionization, when the universe's first light sources turned on. Credit: Robin Dienel, Carnegie Institution for Science

A team of astronomers, including two from MIT, has detected the most distant supermassive black hole ever observed. The black hole sits in the center of an ultrabright quasar, the light of which was emitted just 690 million years after the Big Bang. That light has taken about 13 billion years to reach us—a span of time that is nearly equal to the age of the universe.

The black hole is measured to be about 800 million times as massive as our sun—a Goliath by modern-day standards and a relative anomaly in the early .

"This is the only object we have observed from this era," says Robert Simcoe, the Francis L. Friedman Professor of Physics in MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. "It has an extremely high mass, and yet the universe is so young that this thing shouldn't exist. The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big. It's very puzzling."

Adding to the black hole's intrigue is the environment in which it formed: The scientists have deduced that the black hole took shape just as the universe was undergoing a fundamental shift, from an opaque environment dominated by neutral hydrogen to one in which the first stars started to blink on. As more stars and galaxies formed, they eventually generated enough radiation to flip hydrogen from neutral, a state in which hydrogen's electrons are bound to their nucleus, to ionized, in which the electrons are set free to recombine at random. This shift from neutral to ionized hydrogen represented a fundamental change in the universe that has persisted to this day.

The team believes that the newly discovered black hole existed in an environment that was about half neutral, half ionized.

"What we have found is that the universe was about 50/50—it's a moment when the first galaxies emerged from their cocoons of neutral gas and started to shine their way out," Simcoe says. "This is the most accurate measurement of that time, and a real indication of when the first stars turned on."

Simcoe and postdoc Monica L. Turner are the MIT co-authors of a paper detailing the results, published today in the journal Nature. The other lead authors are from the Carnegie Institution for Science, in Pasadena, California.

Artist’s conception of the most-distant supermassive black hole ever discovered, which is part of a quasar from just 690 million years after the Big Bang. Credit: Robin Dienel, Carnegie Institution for Science.

A shift, at high speed

The black hole was detected by Eduardo Bañados, an astronomer at Carnegie, who found the object while combing through multiple all-sky surveys, or maps of the distant universe. Bañados was looking in particular for quasars—some of the brightest objects in the universe, that consist of a supermassive black hole surrounded by swirling, accreting disks of matter.

After identifying several objects of interest, Bañados focused in on them using an instrument known as FIRE (the Folded-port InfraRed Echellette), which was built by Simcoe and operates at the 6.5-meter-diameter Magellan telescopes in Chile. FIRE is a spectrometer that classifies objects based on their infrared spectra. The light from very distant, early cosmic objects shifts toward redder wavelengths on its journey across the universe, as the universe expands. Astronomers refer to this Doppler-like phenomenon as "redshift"; the more distant an object, the farther its light has shifted toward the red, or infrared end of the spectrum. The higher an object's redshift, the further away it is, both in space and time.

Using FIRE, the team identified one of Bañados' objects as a quasar with a redshift of 7.5, meaning the object was emitting light around 690 million years after the Big Bang. Based on the quasar's redshift, the researchers calculated the mass of the black hole at its center and determined that it is around 800 million times the mass of the sun.

"Something is causing gas within the quasar to move around at very high speed, and the only phenomenon we know that achieves such speeds is orbit around a ," Simcoe says.

Combined Magellan/FIRE and Gemini/GNIRS near-infrared spectrum of the quasar J1342+0928. The inset shows the MgII line, which played a crucial role in determining the mass of the black hole and was obtained using GNIRS. Credit: Bañados et al.

When the first stars turned on

The newly identified quasar appears to inhabit a pivotal moment in the universe's history. Immediately following the Big Bang, the universe resembled a cosmic soup of hot, extremely energetic particles. As the universe rapidly expanded, these particles cooled and coalesced into during an era that is sometimes referred to as the dark ages—a period bereft of any sources of light. Eventually, gravity condensed matter into the first stars and galaxies, which in turn produced light in the form of photons. As more stars turned on throughout the universe, their photons reacted with , ionizing the gas and setting off what's known as the epoch of re-ionization.

Simcoe, Bañados, and their colleagues believe the newly discovered quasar existed during this fundamental transition, just at the time when the universe was undergoing a drastic shift in its most abundant element.

The new super-massive black hole J1342+0928 (yellow star), which resides in a mostly neutral universe at the edge of cosmic dawn, is more distant than any other found to date (yellow dots). Credit: Jinyi Yang, University of Arizona; Reidar Hahn, Fermilab; M. Newhouse NOAO/AURA/NSF

The researchers used FIRE to determine that a large fraction of the hydrogen surrounding the quasar is neutral. They extrapolated from that to estimate that the universe as a whole was likely about half neutral and half ionized at the time they observed the quasar. From this, they inferred that stars must have begun turning on during this time, 690 million years after the Big Bang.

"This adds to our understanding of our universe at large because we've identified that moment of time when the universe is in the middle of this very rapid transition from neutral to ionized," Simcoe says. "We now have the most accurate measurements to date of when the first were turning on."

There is one large mystery that remains to be solved: How did a black hole of such massive proportions form so early in the universe's history? It's thought that grow by accreting, or absorbing mass from the surrounding environment. Extremely large black holes, such as the one identified by Simcoe and his colleagues, should form over periods much longer than 690 million years.

"If you start with a seed like a big star, and let it grow at the maximum possible rate, and start at the moment of the Big Bang, you could never make something with 800 million solar masses—it's unrealistic," Simcoe says. "So there must be another way that it formed. And how exactly that happens, nobody knows."

Explore further: Supersonic gas streams left over from the Big Bang drive massive black hole formation

More information: An 800 million solar mass black hole in a significantly neutral Universe at a redshift of 7.5, Nature (2017). nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/nature25180

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Tuxford
1.4 / 5 (9) Dec 06, 2017
The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big. It's very puzzling.

you could never make something with 800 million solar masses—it's unrealistic," Simcoe says. "So there must be another way that it formed. And how exactly that happens, nobody knows."

LOL! Another conundrum for the merger maniacs to reconcile. They keep piling up more and more rapidly. Yet, no amount of evidence will shake the maniac from his distorted world view. Long live the Huge Bang Fantasy!

Look, simply tired light explains how such a massive object could be mistaken for such an extreme distance; the light climbing out of a deep gravity well is red shifted. That the subtle effect cannot be measured in the lab by current instrumentation does not mean it does not exist. LaViolette's SQK predicts the effect, together with blue shifting observed in planetary fly-bys. But go on, ignore the evidence! Ignorance is blissful!
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (8) Dec 06, 2017
LOL is correct! It is quite the epic faerie tale they spew. It is all just the fanciful pontifications of the plasma ignoramuses. It would be comical if it weren't such a tremendous waste of resources, time, and effort. And amusingly they got published writing about an amazing failure of their pet guesses. Science? Not even close. It's not even worthy to call it sci-fi.
ursiny33
1 / 5 (4) Dec 06, 2017
And to think every star in that galaxy is 690 million years old or younger i call bullshit evidence that space is older than our construction this galaxy was born in another part of space and travelled here over 10s of billions of years to be in our area
mackita
2 / 5 (4) Dec 06, 2017
Providing that the Universe was formed from sparse and nearly homogeneous state which we observe by now (and which is supposed to be established by inflation), then the existence of such black hole in early Universe is quite strange - the inflation apparently didn't work as intended...
milnik
1 / 5 (4) Dec 07, 2017
First and foremost: the big bang is a big scam, great mischief, big nonsense, a lot of ignorance and ignorance of logic and natural laws, and especially this is the great intention of the "tycoon of science" to catch as much as possible in the field of his "dark" stories and theories. ignorant in order to declare themselves to be "the creator of the universe"
All of the evidence presented here is proof that these researchers do not know anything about themselves or their origin and possibilities, even though we are the last patent of the Creator of the universe, and some want to make their Creator fake and nonexistent.
milnik
1 / 5 (5) Dec 07, 2017
Science does not know the closed cycles of the origin and disappearance of matter and therefore cares for the appearance of the phenomenon. In them, hydrogen formed before quarks, gluons, and light came by accident, because they do not know anything about it. An international tribunal should be formed to judge those "scientific magicians" who pollute our knowledge and awareness and instigate civilization to ignore the existence of the Spiritual Entity of the universe. They do not know what the quasar is and how it is created.
What will they say when they make a telescope that can reveal something, there behind their "deity BB"?
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2017
The formation of such massive black holes such a short time after the BB indicates that there is something going on we don't yet fully understand. Either accretion is much faster in the Dark Ages or there are primordial black holes, or perhaps both.
Tuxford
1 / 5 (4) Dec 07, 2017
The formation of such massive black holes such a short time after the BB indicates that there is something going on we don't yet fully understand. Either accretion is much faster in the Dark Ages or there are primordial black holes, or perhaps both.

Don't yet fully understand??? You don't have a clue! You give yourself far too much credit! Because otherwise, you will look rather foolish, to put it mildly. LOL. Pure fantasy speculation!
mackita
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2017
It doesn't matter if we understand it or not - the important is, this result contradicts the Big Bang theory without additional ad-hoced assumptions in similar way, like this one or another ones... It's important not to forget these results for not being surprised later by sudden change of paradigm..
savvys84
4 / 5 (3) Dec 11, 2017
Amazing discovery.
TimLong2001
2 / 5 (2) Dec 12, 2017
Since pair-formation can eventually supply the required (and supersymmetric) amount of matter to populate the universe, without the artificial age constraint of expansion (BB) theory, the existance of highly developed cosmological structures at the supposed time of the big bang is no surprise.
Kweden
1 / 5 (1) Dec 13, 2017
"It has an extremely high mass, and yet the universe is so young that this thing shouldn't exist. The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big. It's very puzzling."

Read more at: https://phys.org/...html#jCp

Think in terms of a ridiculous massive black hole which spun fast enough to throw off bits of matter and then dark matter so that this one could easily exist at this time, and that would explain the dark period. However, this would also make the "beginning" the big crunch and not a bang. Thus "the expansion" would be caused by the throw off. This big crunch would also explain the apparent dimensional anomalies in early Univs. As the crunch would be powerful enough to pull dimensions back from "the expansion" (the throw-off), thereby giving the observed early 2 dimensional universe.
mackita
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 13, 2017
A much simpler assumption is, the Universe is steady state (and much bigger than the observable part of it), the red shift is product of light scattering at vacuum fluctuations (actually the same which are responsible for dark matter) and such a black holes are randomly widespread at distance. No need to fable about expansion (which is already doubted, BTW) crunching and 2-dimensional Universe..
Kweden
not rated yet Dec 14, 2017
A much simpler assumption is, the Universe is steady state (and https://www.techn...ogists/, BTW) crunching and 2-dimensional Universe..


Due to increasing expansion speed, not likely steady. Red shift to determine speed is done by difference of shift going away on one side and coming toward on opposite side of hole. According to article, the position of hole is where there should not be any--unless, universe began as I point out. I'm fairly certain they will find more pices that were thrown off the biggest one. The 2d early universe is theorized to be projecting our experience; I believe that is apparent only because the dimensions were stripped off and the fling out is through that. A simpler assumption of the planet is that it is a floating mountain and the planets are angels dancing in the 2nd heaven and the upper heaven..where the gods are. Nothing real is simple.

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