By Hugh Finlay
The oldest and most distant black hole in the universe known to scientists so far, has just been found. It is over 800 times bigger than our sun. The black hole is from 13 billion years ago, a mere 690 million years after the big bang, a time when the universe was only 5% as old as it is now. (The universe is 13.8 billion years old). This means the black hole is 8 billion years older than our Earth.
Eduardo Banados, the astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science, said "So if the universe was a 50-year-old person, we're seeing a picture of that person when he or she was two and a half years old. When we're looking at further distances, we're also looking back in time" (as light takes a certain amount of time to traverse the universe).
He said "This discovery opens up an exciting new window to understand the early universe."
The black hole is surrounded by a quasar (called J1342+0928). It was around at a time when the force of gravity started condensing matter into stars.
Said Robert Simcoe, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, "This object provides us with a measurement of the time at which the universe first became illuminated with starlight." Scientists did not believe that such objects existed so early in the life of the universe. As Eduardo Banados put it "The universe is full of surprises."
Quasars, very bright objects located at the center of galaxies, are energized gases created by a black hole devouring a galaxy. These gases spiral into the black holes at high speeds. The quasar was studied with the help of NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer which orbits the Earth. Observatories in France, US and Chile also helped. Said Banados "This discovery opens up an exciting new window to understand the early universe."
"The new quasar is itself one of the first galaxies, and yet it already harbors a behemoth black hole as massive as others in the present-day universe." Said Xiaohui Fan, of the University of Arizona Steward Observatory,
Banados said "The newfound quasar is so luminous and evolved that I would be surprised if this was the first quasar ever formed. The universe is enormous and searching for these rare objects is like looking for the needle in the haystack."
Up until this find, the oldest quasar known to scientists was 60 million years younger. Scientists are looking out for more quasars of the same age.