(ORDO NEWS) — An international team of astronomers discovered the earliest and most distant quasar in the Universe, fully formed as early as 670 million years after the Big Bang. The study is published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The quasar, dubbed J0313-1806, is over 13 billion light-years from Earth. Powered by a supermassive black hole, it is more than 1.6 billion times more massive than the Sun and more than 1,000 times brighter than our entire Milky Way galaxy.
To determine the exact distance to the quasar, scientists used the ALMA radio telescope complex in the Chilean Atacama Desert, the 6.5-meter Magellan Baade telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, Gemini telescopes in Chile and Hawaii, and the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii.
Quasars occur when the powerful gravity of a supermassive black hole in a galaxy’s core pulls in surrounding material, which forms a disk orbiting the hole. This releases a huge amount of energy. This makes the quasar so bright that it often dwarfs the rest of the galaxy.
Astronomers have observed similar phenomena before, but have never seen how quasars interacted with black holes in the early universe. In addition, the black hole in the core of J0313-1806 is twice as massive as the previous record holder, and this provides astronomers with valuable information about the impact of such supermassive black holes on their host galaxies.
“This is the earliest evidence of how a supermassive black hole is affecting the galaxy around it,” study director Feige Wang of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory said in a press release from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). galaxies, we know what’s going to happen, but we’ve never seen it happen this early in the universe.”
Such an early formation of a huge black hole and quasar J0313-1806 excludes two of the possible hypotheses for the formation of such objects. In the first of these models, individual massive stars explode as supernovae and collapse into black holes, which then merge into larger black holes. In the second case, dense clusters of stars collapse into a massive black hole. However, in both cases, the process takes too long for a black hole of the same mass as in J0313-1806 to form 670 million years after the Big Bang.
“This suggests that this black hole must have been formed by a different mechanism,” said fellow study participant Xiaohui Fan at the University of Arizona. “In this case, it is a mechanism that involves a huge amount of primary cold hydrogen gas. collapsing directly into the nucleus of a black hole.”
Since this does not require full-fledged stars as source material, this is the only mechanism that would allow the supermassive black hole of quasar J0313-1806 to grow to 1.6 billion solar masses at such an early stage in the existence of the universe, the researchers say.
According to their calculations, the parent galaxy of the quasar should have formed stars 200 times faster than our Milky Way. This indicates that the galaxy itself was growing very rapidly, with a black hole at its center absorbing 25 solar masses every year.
The energy released from such a fast feed sets off a powerful stream of ionized gas that travels at about 20 percent of the speed of light. Such powerful outflows should ultimately stop star formation in the galaxy, the authors of the article note.
“We think that these supermassive black holes caused many of the large galaxies to stop forming stars at some point,” explains Fan. when this process began in the history of the universe. This quasar is the oldest evidence that extinction could have occurred at very early times.”
The researchers hope to learn more about distant quasars through future observations with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2021.
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