Monster black hole found in the early universe

Astronomers have discovered the second-most distant quasar ever found using three Maunakea Observatories in Hawai’i: W. M. Keck Observatory, the international Gemini Observatory, a Program of NSF’s NOIRLab, and the University of Hawai’i-owned United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT). It is the first quasar to receive an indigenous Hawaiian name, Poniua’ena, which means “unseen spinning source of creation, surrounded with brilliance” in the Hawaiian language.

Poniua’ena is only the second quasar yet detected at a distance calculated at a cosmological redshift greater than 7.5 and it hosts a black hole twice as large as the other quasar known in the same era. The existence of these massive black holes at such early times challenges current theories of how supermassive black holes formed and grew in the young universe.

Spectroscopic observations from Keck Observatory and Gemini Observatory show the supermassive black hole powering Poniua’ena is 1.5 billion times more massive than our Sun.

Poniua’ena 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 and lead author of the study.

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?” said 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 holds the birth of stars and galaxies as we know them started during the Epoch of Reionization, beginning about 400 million years after the Big Bang. The growth of the first giant black holes is thought to have occurred during that same era in the universe’s history.

The discovery of quasars like Poniua’ena, 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. Poniua’ena has placed new and important constraints on the evolution of the matter between galaxies (intergalactic medium) in the reionization epoch.

Source: “Monster black hole found in the early universe” Science Daily, 25 June 2020. <>

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