Summary: After more than a decade of searching for the first quasars, a team of astronomers used the NOIRLab’s Gemini Observatory and CTIO to discover the most massive quasar known in the early Universe — detected from a time only 700 million years after the Big Bang
Original author and publication date: National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory – June 25, 2020
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: We are seeing farther and farther back in time. Perhaps one day (soon!) we will be able to see farther and farther ahead into the future.
From the article:
Quasars are the most energetic objects in the Universe, powered by their supermassive black holes, and since their discovery astronomers have been keen to determine when they first appeared in our cosmic history.
Systematic searches for these objects have led to the discovery of the most distant quasar (J1342+0928) in 2018 and now the second most distant, J1007+2115. The A Hua He Inoa program named J1007+2115 Pōniuāʻena, meaning “unseen spinning source of creation, surrounded with brilliance” in the Hawaiian language. The supermassive black hole powering Pōniuāʻena is 1.5 billion times more massive than our Sun.
“Pōniuāʻena is the most distant object known in the Universe hosting a black hole exceeding one billion solar masses” said Jinyi Yang, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Steward Observatory of the University of Arizona.
For a black hole of this size to form this early in the Universe, it would need to start as a 10,000 solar mass “seed” black hole about 100 million years after the Big Bang, rather than growing from a much smaller black hole formed by the collapse of a single star.
“How can the Universe produce such a massive black hole so early in its history?” wondered Xiaohui Fan, Regents’ professor and associate department head of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona. “This discovery presents the biggest challenge yet for the theory of black hole formation and growth in the early Universe.”
Current theory suggests that at the beginning of the Universe following the Big Bang, atoms were too distant from one another to interact and form stars and galaxies. The birth of stars and galaxies as we know them happened during the Epoch of Reionization, beginning about 400 hundred million years after the Big Bang. The discovery of quasars like Pōniuāʻena, deep into the reionization epoch, is a big step towards understanding this process of reionization and the formation of early supermassive black holes and massive galaxies. Pōniuāʻena has placed new and important constraints on the evolution of the matter between galaxies (the intergalactic medium) in the reionization epoch.
The search for distant quasars began with the research team combing through large area surveys such as the DECaLS imaging survey which uses the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope, located at CTIO in Chile. The team uncovered a possible quasar in the data, and in 2019 they observed it with telescopes including the Gemini North telescope and the W. M. Keck Observatory both on Maunakea on Hawai‘i Island. Gemini’s GNIRS instrument confirmed the existence of Pōniuāʻena.