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A record-breaking quasar poses a supermassive problem

6 Jul 2020, 13:00 UTC
A record-breaking quasar poses a supermassive problem
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Astronomers have discovered the second-farthest quasar ever found, a mind-stomping 13 billion light years from Earth. It has a supermassive black hole in its heart that tips the cosmic scale at 1.5 billion times the mass of the Sun, making it the most massive black hole seen at that distance*.

And that, it turns out, is a problem.

The quasar's technical name is J1007+2115 (after its coordinates on the sky), but astronomers have nicknamed it Pōniuā'ena, an indigenous Hawaiian word meaning "unseen spinning source of creation, surrounded with brilliance", which is simultaneously as accurate and poetic a description of an active galaxy I've heard†.

It was found in a survey of the sky looking for very distant galaxies like it, and then astronomers observed it more carefully with various very large telescopes to get a spectrum of it, confirming its distance.

Artwork depicting a supermassive black hole with a hot, luminous accretion disk. Credit: Robin Dienel, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science

A quasar is an active galaxy, where the supermassive black hole in its core is actively eating matter around it. As the matter piles up in a disk around the hole before it falls in, friction ...

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