Big, bright quasar from ancient universe stuns scientists

Mar 3, 2015

Photo: Zhaoyu Li / Shanghai Astronomical Observatory

By Amina Khan

Deep in the universe’s past, astronomers have discovered a luminous quasar powered by an enormous black hole that contains the mass of 12 billion suns. The incredibly bright object is ancient — shining when the universe was only 875 million years old — and way bigger than it should be for an object its age.

The unusual quasar, described Wednesday in the journal Nature, is the biggest and brightest one known to have formed within 1 billion years of the Big Bang. The find could cause researchers to alter their understanding of how such super-massive black holes form — and shed light (literally) on the conditions in the early universe.

The quasar, named J010013.02+280225.8, or J0100+2802 for short, is powered by a massive black hole that’s pulling in so much stuff that the material accelerating toward it produces an incredible amount of light. There are about 40 known quasars spotted within a billion years of the Big Bang, and they weigh in around a billion solar masses. Compared with its peers, this quasar is a monster — by far the biggest and the brightest.

“We were surprised,” said study coauthor Xiaohui Fan, an astronomer with the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

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6 comments on “Big, bright quasar from ancient universe stuns scientists

  • I went to a seminar last year where Leonard Susskind discussed this and have been trying to follow it since. I will convey what I can:

    Yes, it is possible. It is another version of a firewall solution to the black hole information paradox. These types of solutions sacrifice the equivalence principle to solve the problem of information being destroyed after a black hole undergoes Hawking Radiation. The problem, of course, is using an untested idea (string theory) to come up with a solution that violates a principle of a tested theory (general relativity).

    The dramatic violation of the equivalence principle in GR is not very palatable especially for the supermassive black holes being discussed in articles like these. I don’t like it. But the universe doesn’t care what I like and it appears from people who have studied this more carefully than I that some principle is going to get trampled in the solution to this problem.

    There are other potential solutions which do not violate principles in GR but at the moment no one knows which idea might be correct. I think it is unlikely to be “fuzzball” black holes, however.

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