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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