Discovery of the Most Ancient Black Hole, Emerging 470 Million Years Post-Big Bang

by Madison Thomas
ancient black hole

Astronomical research has unveiled the most ancient black hole known to date, an enigmatic giant that took shape roughly 470 million years subsequent to the Big Bang.

The study, released on Monday, solidifies previous theoretical suppositions about the presence of supermassive black holes in the universe’s infancy. This landmark discovery was a collaborative effort, utilizing the capacities of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope along with the Chandra X-Ray Observatory throughout the preceding year.

Considering the universe’s age is approximately 13.7 billion years, this black hole is identified as being 13.2 billion years old.

The sheer size of this black hole has left the scientific community in awe—it is estimated to be 10 times the size of the black hole located in the center of the Milky Way.

The black hole’s mass is theorized to range from 10% to a staggering 100% of its host galaxy’s total stellar mass, remarked principal investigator Akos Bogdan from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. This contrasts significantly with the relatively negligible mass ratio of black holes in the Milky Way and other proximal galaxies, which is around 0.1%, he observed.

“The presence of such a titanic entity so soon after the universe’s birth is rather extraordinary,” conveyed Priyamvada Natarajan from Yale University, a co-author in the research presented in Nature Astronomy, with a corresponding piece in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. “The fact that this black hole, along with its galaxy, is already in place at such a nascent stage of the universe is truly remarkable.”

The scientists posit that this black hole originated from vast gas clouds within a neighboring galaxy that experienced gravitational collapse. Following a galactic merger, the black hole became the dominant entity.

Chandra’s X-ray detection unequivocally affirms the black hole’s nature, according to Natarajan. She explains that the X-rays we observe are actually the emissions from gas as it is drawn in and heated by the black hole’s immense gravitational forces.

This particular black hole is classified as a quasar due to its active accumulation of mass and the intense luminosity of the gas around it.

Separately, the Webb telescope may have identified a black hole that is even older, by about 29 million years. However, confirmation through X-ray observation is pending. Natarajan anticipates the discovery of more primordial black holes—perhaps not as remote, yet considerably distant.

“This could signify the beginning of a new era in our observation of the universe, and this discovery might just be the initial glimpse,” she asserted.

The combined capabilities of the Webb and Chandra telescopes, particularly the gravitational lensing method, were pivotal. They harnessed the gravitational field of a closer galaxy cluster, only 3.2 billion light-years from Earth, to amplify the view of the distant galaxy UHZ1 and its colossal black hole.

Natarajan comments on the fortuity of the situation, noting, “The object is rather dim, but fortunately, the forces of nature have acted as a natural magnifying glass for our benefit.”

The Webb telescope, launched in 2021 and situated 1 million miles from Earth, is the most advanced and sizable space observatory to explore the cosmos in infrared. Chandra, with its X-ray capabilities, was launched into orbit in 1999 and continues to contribute to remarkable astronomical discoveries more than two decades later.

“I am astounded by Chandra’s capacity to continue uncovering such incredible phenomena, even after 24 years since its mission began,” said Bogdan.

The Big Big News Health and Science Department is funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science and Educational Media. The AP maintains full editorial independence in the creation of this content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about ancient black hole

What is the significance of the newly discovered black hole?

The discovery of this ancient black hole, which formed merely 470 million years after the Big Bang, provides crucial insights into the existence and formation of supermassive black holes in the early universe. It challenges previous notions about when such massive cosmic structures could have formed and their role in the evolution of early galaxies.

How was the ancient black hole discovered?

The black hole was discovered through a collaboration using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. These telescopes observed the black hole’s high-energy X-rays and utilized gravitational lensing to magnify distant cosmic objects, facilitating the observation of this ancient structure.

Why is the size of the discovered black hole surprising to scientists?

The massive scale of the black hole is surprising because it possesses a mass that is potentially up to 100% of its galaxy’s total stellar mass, which is substantially more significant than the typical 0.1% mass ratio of black holes to their galaxies observed in the Milky Way and nearby galaxies. Its size at such an early point in the universe’s history is particularly astounding.

Can the Chandra X-Ray Observatory confirm the presence of black holes?

Yes, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory can confirm the presence of black holes. It detects the X-ray radiation emitted from gas as it is accelerated and heated while being pulled into a black hole, which is a distinctive signature of these cosmic phenomena.

Are there any more ancient black holes expected to be found?

Scientists expect to find more ancient black holes with the continued observation of the universe, especially with the advanced technologies available through telescopes like Webb and Chandra. Although the newly discovered black hole is currently the oldest identified, there may be others that are even more ancient yet to be observed and confirmed.

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Sarah K. November 7, 2023 - 5:20 am

Isn’t it fascinating how nature helps us out with that gravitational lensing thing? its like having a cosmic magnifying glass right where we need it. gotta love when the universe is on your side.

Mike Johnson November 7, 2023 - 6:21 am

didn’t realize the webb telescope could already be showing us such crazy stuff, didn’t it just launch last year or smth? amazing what we can do when we really push the boundaries of technology.

Jane Smith November 7, 2023 - 3:56 pm

Wow, its like every time we think we understand the universe, it throws us a curveball. this discovery is mindblowing, i mean how can something that massive form so quickly after the big bang?

Alex R. November 7, 2023 - 7:11 pm

heard about this on the news but didn’t quite get the scale of it till now, that’s one big black hole. makes our milky way’s black hole seem like a tiny speck.


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