A team of astronomers from Peking University in China and the University of Arizona have made a landmark discovery. They have found the brightest quasar and the biggest black hole during one of the earliest periods in our universe. It’s not the biggest black hole ever found, but it does make scientists question what they thought they knew about how black holes grow.

SSDS J0100+2802 sits 12.8 billion light-years away.

The black hole at the center of the quasar has a mass of 12 billion of our suns. The quasar shines with the equivalent of 420 trillion suns. This makes it the most luminous quasar and the largest black hole among all known distant quasars. The image below shows how it stacks up with other discovered distant quasars and black holes.

distant quasar chart

What surprises astronomers is the black hole achieved this size just 875 million years after the big bang. Black holes grow bigger as they consume nearby gas and stars. Typically, black holes grow at a certain rate. Yet, this black hole is massive during one of the earliest periods in our universe.

Xiaohui Fan, Reagents’ Professor of Astronomy at the UA’s Steward Observatory and co-author of the study, expressed his surprise in a press release.

“How can a quasar so luminous, and a black hole so massive, form so early in the history of the universe, at an era soon after the earliest stars and galaxies have just emerged?” Fan said. “And what is the relationship between this monster black hole and its surrounding environment, including its host galaxy?

“This ultra luminous quasar with its supermassive black hole provides a unique laboratory to the study of the mass assembly and galaxy formation around the most massive black holes in the early universe.”

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How does this black hole stack up against the one in our galaxy? According to Fan, our black hole has a mass of 4 million suns. That makes this massive black hole 3,000 times heavier than the one in the Milky Way galaxy.

SDSS J0100+2802 was first spotted by the 2.4 meter Lijiang Telescope in Yunnan, China. It’s the only quasar discovered by a 2-meter telescope at these kind of distances. A feat Feige Wang, a doctoral student from Peking University, said they are “very proud of.”

After it was discovered, two telescopes in southern Arizona took over. The 8.4 meter Large Binocular Telescope and the 6.5 meter Multiple Mirror Telescope were able to figure out the black hole’s mass. The 6.5 meter Magellan Telescope in Chile and the 8.2 meter Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii confirmed the findings.

So, what’s next for the astronomers? The team plans to use the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Telescope to learn more about this surprising quasar and black hole.

Image: Artist impression of quasar and black hole. Credit: Zhaoyu Li/Shanghai Observatory

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