Image: Zhaoyu Li/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Misti Mountain Observatory
An artist's impression of a quasar with a supermassive black hole in the distant universe.

Colossal Black Hole With Mass of 12 Billion Suns Dwarfs Everything in Time and Space


It takes up as much space as 12 billion suns, but it can’t be seen. Nevertheless it is confounding astronomers and physicists alike.

Scientists are marveling at a new discovery that is nearly as old as the universe itself.

At 40,000 times brighter than our galaxy the Milky Way, this humongous quasar—swirls of brilliantly lit hot gases that are trying to squeeze through a black hole, as National Geographic describes it—is an apparent anomaly in that it formed much more quickly than physicists thought was possible. It far outshines and dwarfs other quasars and black holes thought to have formed at about the same time, about 900 million years after the Big Bang that is theorized to have formed the universe 13.7 billion years ago.

"This is the biggest monster we've ever detected in terms of luminosity," said Harvard University astronomy department chairman Avi Loeb, who was not involved in the research, to National Geographic.

And it is turning notions of physics on their head, given that current theory does not allow for such formations in such a short time, when the universe was just six percent of its current age, as National Geographic noted.

"How can a quasar so luminous, and a black hole so massive, form so early in the history of the universe, at an era soon after the earliest stars and galaxies have just emerged?" said study co-author Xiaohui Fan, Regents' Professor of Astronomy at Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona (UA), in a statement from the team. "And what is the relationship between this monster black hole and its surrounding environment, including its host galaxy?”

The study was conducted by researchers at Peking University in China and the University of Arizona in the U.S., and the findings were published in the journal Nature on Wednesday February 25. The researchers are excited to learn more, which they plan to do via the Hubble Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Telescope, among others, the UA statement said.

"This ultraluminous quasar with its supermassive black hole provides a unique laboratory to the study of the mass assembly and galaxy formation around the most massive black holes in the early universe,” said Fan.

"This quasar is very unique," said Xue-Bing Wu, a professor of the Department of Astronomy, School of Physics at Peking University and the associate director of the Kavli Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, in the UA statement. "Just like the brightest lighthouse in the distant universe, its glowing light will help us to probe more about the early universe.”

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page