An artist’s impression of the most massive black hole yet discovered in the early universe. Image: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/P. Marenfeld
In yet another deep space head scratcher, astronomers have found a monster black hole with 1.5 billion times the mass of the Sun dating back to within 700 million years of the Big Bang. It is the second most distant quasar ever found and one with twice the mass of the only other supermassive black hole from the same epoch.
The question is, how did the ultra-massive black hole form and evolve so quickly? To reach 1.5 billion solar masses that early in the universe’s history, a 10,000-solar-mass “seed” black hole would have had to form within about 100 million years of the Big Bang. That would appear to rule out processes that start with a 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?” asked 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.”