Super black hole confounds laws of physics

27 February 2015 - 02:41 By Reuters
NEW REALITY: An artist's impression of a super-massive black hole detected at the centre of a distant quasar. It has a mass 12 billion times that of the sun
NEW REALITY: An artist's impression of a super-massive black hole detected at the centre of a distant quasar. It has a mass 12 billion times that of the sun
Image: ZHAOYU LI/SHANGHAI ASTRONOMICAL/PEKING UNIVERSITY/PA

A black hole 12 billion times as big as the sun has been found in a glowing quasar that existed when the universe was in its infancy, scientists said.

The discovery challenges current theories that say that black holes and their host galaxies matured together over the eons.

Found within the distant celestial bodies called quasars, black holes are accretions of mass so compressed and dense that not even light can escape their gravity.

They are detected by their gravitational effects on relatively nearby galaxies, stars and dust.

The newly found black hole has a mass equivalent to that of about 12 billion suns, more than twice the mass of previously found black holes of similar age, said Bram Venemans, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, in Germany.

The black hole lurking at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy has about 4 million to 5million times the mass of the sun.

Scientists cannot explain how the newly found black hole grew so quickly. Theoretically, it could not have fed off surrounding gas and dust as fast, and for as long, as would be needed for it to reach its massive size.

"Our discovery presents a serious challenge to theories about the growth of black holes in the early universe," lead researcher Xue-Bing Wu, of Beijing University, China, said.

"There might be very special ways for a black hole to grow within a very short time, or there might have been a huge 'seed' black hole when the first generation of stars and galaxies formed.

"Both possibilities are difficult to be explained with current theories."

Another option is that two massive black holes in the early universe collided, forming an even larger black hole, Venemans said.

Clues may come from the quasar itself, which is glowing brightly enough to illuminate interstellar matter between itself and the Earth's telescopes.

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