Massive Black Hole Reveals When The First Stars Blinked On

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"The universe was just not old enough to make a black hole that big", Simcoe said in a statement from MIT.

To allow the formation of such a massive black hole, the very early universe might have had been able to create very large black holes with masses reaching 100,000 times the mass of the sun.

The astronomer who found the unusual black hole said that there's no way of explaining how a black hole would be able to pick up such mass, and that it might challenge out current understandings of how black holes form.

Black holes are a big mystery.

The new supermassive 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). This shift from neutral to ionized hydrogen represented a fundamental change in the universe that has persisted to this day.

"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", said Professor Simcoe.

"DECaLS was designed from the ground up as a public project, so it is wonderful to see the data enabling exciting discoveries that are pushing the boundaries of the known universe", said Arjun Dey, of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, one of the leaders of DECaLS.

In addition, he says, it looks like this black hole formed in a cosmic environment that was only just starting to be affected by light from the first stars.

The newly discovered quasar hails from the time of reionization, when light from the earliest stars and galaxies exited neutral hydrogen gas atoms, causing them to ionize, or lose an electron. FIRE is a spectrometer that classifies objects based on their infrared spectra. This is the point at which the universe became transparent to light. The higher an object's redshift, the further away it is, both in space and time.

The light from this quasar was emitted 690 million years after the Big Bang, relatively close to the beginning of everything.

It's a truly gargantuan black hole, some 800 million times the mass of our sun.

"This is a very exciting discovery", he said.

The newly identified quasar appears to inhabit a pivotal moment in the universe's history.

The universe began in a hot soup of particles that rapidly spread apart in a period called inflation.

The black hole is even more puzzling because of what was happening in the universe at that time. But the new observations have revealed the hydrogen in the early universe was far different from most of the hydrogen in outer space today.

In order to discover these rare distant quasars I am mining various large sky surveys including Pan-STARRS1 and WISE. And they measure their size by looking at the brightness of the quasar. "This is really like finding a needle in the haystack". As more stars formed from the remains of first-generation stars, they became "polluted" with heavier elements and in turn produce even heavier elements when they explode in supernovae. "With several next-generation, even-more-sensitive facilities now being built, we can expect many exciting discoveries in the very early universe in the coming years".