The mass of the black hole is 800 million times that of the sun, the university said, and it sits in the center of a galactic object called a quasar. These monsters - active or not - have never been seen forming, but the most solid ideas for the process behind their formation require it to take a very, very long time.
Quasars are powered by supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies - in this case, a black hole with nearly a billion times the mass of the Sun.
Now the discovery of a supermassive black hole smack in the middle of this period is helping astronomers resolve both questions.
Astronomers have found the oldest supermassive black hole ever discovered. "It has an extremely high mass, and yet the universe is so young that this thing shouldn't exist".
"This is the only object we have observed from this era", said Robert Simcoe, the Francis L. Friedman professor of physics at MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.
This is very unlikely the black holes that form in the present-day universe, which rarely exceed a few dozen solar masses.
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"The moment when the first stars turned on is when our universe filled with light", says Simcoe, who explains that when this light leaked out of the first galaxies, it interacted with the surrounding matter and changed its properties.
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.
The black hole resides in a quasar and its light reaches us from when the universe was only 5% of its current age - over 13 billion years ago, or "just" 690 million years after the Big Bang.
As more stars formed, they generated enough radiation to flip hydrogen from its neutral state to an ionized state. "The universe is full of wonders", Banados said. The find of this supermassive black hole is puzzling astronomers because they can't figure out how this black hole was formed so early in the universe's history. As more stars formed from the remains of first-generation stars, they became "polluted" with heavier elements and in turn produce even heavier elements when they explode in supernovae.
"This black hole grew far larger than we expected in only 690 million years after the Big Bang, which challenges our theories about how black holes form", said study co-author Daniel Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Using FIRE, the researchers determined that at the time this quasar began emitting light, the hydrogen gas around it was half neutral and half ionized.
According to the theory, the first 400,000 years were a period of inflation, in which particles cooled and gelled into neutral hydrogen gas-a dark time before stars and starlight. That indicated to researchers that the stars were just beginning to glow, he said. "And how exactly that happens, nobody knows".