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Monstrous Black Hole the Largest Scientists Have Ever Seen

Feb 26, 2015 11:24 AM EST
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Pictured: An artist's impression of a quasar with a supermassive black hole in the distant Universe.
(Photo : Zhaoyu Li/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Misti Mountain Observatory)

Scientists have discovered a monstrous black hole about 13 billion light-years away from Earth, and it is the largest they have ever seen, a new study says.

It is located in the center of the brightest quasar in the early Universe, named SDSS J0100+2802, which shines with the equivalent of 420 trillion Suns. First discovered in 1963, quasars are the most powerful objects beyond our Milky Way galaxy. They beam vast amounts of energy across space as the supermassive black hole in their center sucks in matter from its surroundings.

Astronomers have discovered more than 200,000 quasars, with ages ranging from 0.7 billion years after the Big Bang to today. However, despite their luminosity, they are rare and difficult to find given that they're located so far away from us.

But using the 2.4-meter Lijiang Telescope (LJT) in Yunnan, China, lead study author Xue-Bing Wu and his team found SDSS J0100+2802.

The black hole that powers this quasar, according to recent data, formed only 900 million years after the Big Bang. But with data also indicating that it's a whopping 12 billion times the size of the Sun, this discovery is puzzling scientists and challenging widely held beliefs about black hole growth rates during the early Universe.

"Based on previous research, this is the largest black hole found for that period of time," Dr. Fuyan Bian, one of the researchers, told Reuters. "Current theory is for a limit to how fast a black hole can grow, but this black hole is too large for that theory."

Black holes, scientists suggest, grow as they absorb mass. However, at the same time mass is being absorbed it's also being heated, creating radiation pressure that pushes the mass away from the black hole.

"Basically, you have two forces balanced together which sets up a limit for growth, which is much smaller than what we found," Bian added.

To determine the mass of this latest record-breaking black hole, researchers used Arizona's 8.4-meter Large Binocular Telescope (LBTO) and 6.5-meter Multiple Mirror Telescope (MMT), the 6.5m Magellan Telescope in Las Campanas Observatory, Chile, and the 8.2m Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii.

The research team still isn't sure how a quasar so bright, and a black hole so massive, could have formed during the early Universe, but they plan to continue studying the quasar with the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Telescope to get to the bottom of it.

The findings were published in the journal Nature.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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