Monster black hole is furthest known

Astronomers have found the most distant giant black hole in the universe, 12.8 billion light-years away. The cosmic cannibal, known as a supermassive black hole, has swallowed up as much material as one billion stars like the Sun.

False-colour image of the galaxy and supermassive black holeIt lies at the heart of a galaxy as big as our own Milky Way, report an international team of scientists led by Dr Romotsugu Goto from the University of Hawaii.

They are surprised at its size because they are looking back in time to see the galaxy as it was nearly 13 billion years ago when the universe was less than a billion years old.

Astronomers have been uncertain how supermassive black holes form but believe it happens when several smaller ones merge. The newly found distant galaxy supports this theory because it provides a reservoir of these so-called intermediate black holes.

Dr Goto said: “It is surprising that such a giant galaxy existed when the Universe was only one-sixteenth of its present age, and that it hosted a black hole one billion times more massive than the Sun. The galaxy and black hole must have formed very rapidly in the early universe.”

The distant black hole was detected with a Suprime-Cam camera newly upgraded with red-sensitive CCDs on the Japanese Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Japanese scientist Yousuke Utsumi said: “We have witnessed a supermassive black hole and its host galaxy forming together. This discovery has opened a new window for investigating galaxy-black hole co-evolution at the dawn of the universe.”

Other supermassive black holes in the distant universe have been found embedded in blobs of gas and dust. The biggest known black hole, 6.4 billion times more massive than the Sun, was reported in June. Our own Milky Way galaxy contains a supermassive black hole of its own.

The results of the study will be published this month by the UK journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Picture: A false-colour image of the most distant supermassive black hole known, labelled CFHQSJ2329-0301. The white central pixels mark the black hole and the coloured surround is the host galaxy. (Credit: Tomotsugu Goto, University of Hawaii).

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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