Supermassive black hole is the most distant ever observed

Astrophysicists suggest that the holes were formed at the very moment when the universe expanded a fundamental shift - moving from an opaque environment, which was dominated by neutral hydrogen, the one in which began to appear the first stars.

"This is the only object we have observed from this era", says Simcoe.

It's the farthest black hole ever found.

However, much of the hydrogen surrounding the discovered quasar is neutral, which means it's the only example of the universe we can see of the times before the ionization that, well, lets us see it.

Around the time of this newest quasar, the universe was emerging from a so-called Dark Ages.

Since the universe is constantly expanding, distant objects are moving away from us, which stretches out the wavelength of the light they emit.

The object was discovered by Eduardo Bañados, an astronomer at Carnegie, as he was looking through multiple all-sky surveys - maps of the distant universe.

Now the discovery of a supermassive black hole smack in the middle of this period is helping astronomers resolve both questions. This black hole was seen devouring material at the center of a galaxy. It took another 13 billion years to reach the earth, the researchers found.

"Something is causing gas within the quasar to move around at very high speed, and the only phenomenon we know that achieves such speeds is orbit around a supermassive black hole", Simcoe says. By comparison, Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, which is thought to have formed about 13.7 billion years ago, is only 4 million times the mass of the Sun.

Schematic representation at top of page of the look back into history that is possible by the discovery of the most distant quasar yet known.

Geballe, who was not part of the research team, said finding out why such massive black holes existed then will help astronomers understand how the cosmos evolved.

As more stars formed, they generated enough radiation to flip hydrogen from its neutral state to an ionized state.

The discovery of a massive black hole so early in the universe may give important hints on conditions at that time, which actually lead the huge black holes to form.

"We're talking 690 million years" after the Big Bang, said Gemini spokesman Peter Michaud. Eventually, gravity condensed matter into the first stars and galaxies, which in turn produced light in the form of photons. "It's a dream come true that all of these data are coming along", said Avi Loeb, the chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University. That indicated to researchers that the stars were just beginning to glow, he said. The observation using one of the Magellan telescope (bottom left) allows us to reconstruct information about the so-called reionization epoch ("bubbles" top-half right) that followed the Big Bang (top right).

  • Joey Payne