Scientists have discovered a supermassive black hole quasar, which originates from the very beginnings of the universe and it was “born” about 690 million years after the Big Bang. What’s extraordinary about this black hole, aside from its massive size, is that its discovery will help scientists comprehend the processes of their growth during the time the universe was still forming. The quasar is the most distant black hole ever discovered, and it’s surrounded by a disk of gas.

Massive Black Hole Quasar
Image source: YouTube Video Screenshot

Black holes are some of the most mysterious regions of space ever discovered. The gravity around and in them is so strong that not even light can escape its grasp. It’s mostly believed that these giant regions form when a large star explodes or collapses on itself.

But, the black holes which formed during the universe’s “early days” are different because, in theory, they couldn’t have formed from the collapse of a huge star as the timelines don’t match, as there was not enough time for the star to be born and live long enough to collapse to become a black hole.

An international team of scientists worked on this study, which has been published in Nature, and discovered the farthest and likely the earliest black hole quasar ever. This black hole has a mass 800 million times that of the sun and was born 690 million years after the Big Bang. Finding the quasar was a part of a similar project which included searching the most distant supermassive black holes.

“Quasars are among the brightest and most-distant known celestial objects and are crucial to understanding the early universe,” said Bram Venemans from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany in a statement.

Before, scientists thought that if there were black holes that formed soon after the Big Bang, there would need to be certain conditions which would allow the supermassive black hole to be born. Roughly 400,000 years after the original explosion, a lot of high energy particles slowed down and cooled down to become neutral hydrogen gas. After gravity condensed matter, the first stars and galaxies were formed. The energy which was released at that time made the universe “reionized” while the neutral hydrogen became excited and ionized which made photons move through space making the universe to be transparent.

While discovering the quasar, scientists discovered that there is a lot of neutral hydrogen which surrounds the quasar. That means that the black hole quasar was formed exactly during that reionization phase after the Big Bang event.

“It was the universe’s last major transition and one of the current frontiers of astrophysics,” said Eduardo Banados, from the Carnegie Institution for Science, in a statement. “Gathering all this mass in fewer than 690 million years is an enormous challenge for theories of supermassive black hole growth.”

“Models of galaxy evolution will need to be able to explain how a galaxy could form the stars needed to produce the observed amounts of dust and heavier chemical elements in such a comparatively short time,” Venemans said.