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The oldest supermassive black hole is baffling

The oldest black hole discovered is so large that it defies explanation.

This active supermassive black hole, or quasar, has a mass of 1.6 billion suns and is located in the heart of a galaxy more than 13 billion light-years from Earth. The quasar, nicknamed J0313-1806, dates back to when the universe was only 670 million years old, or about 5 percent of the current age of the universe. This makes J0313-1806 twice as heavy and 20 million years older than the last record holder of the first known black hole (SN: 12/6/17).

Finding a huge supermassive black hole so early in the history of the universe challenges astronomers' understanding of how these cosmic beasts formed, researchers reported on Jan. 12 at a virtual meeting of the American Astronomical Society and an article posted on on Jan. 8. January. .

Supermassive black holes are believed to grow from smaller seed black holes that fatten matter. But astronomer Feige Wang of the University of Arizona and colleagues calculated that even if the J0313-1806 seed formed just after the first stars in the universe and grew as fast as possible, it would need an initial mass of at least 10,000 suns. The normal way black holes form from seed, through the collapse of massive stars, can only make black holes up to a few thousand times more massive than the sun.

A giant black seed hole may have formed through the direct collapse of large amounts of primordial hydrogen gas, says study co-author Xiaohui Fan, also an astronomer at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Or maybe the seed of J0313-1806 started small, forming through stellar collapse, and black holes can grow much faster than scientists think. “Both possibilities exist, but neither is proven,” Fan says. "We have to look much earlier (in the universe) and look for much less massive black holes to see how these things grow."

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