Black hole 'is 12 billion times size of the sun'

'Super-supermassive' black hole was formed early on in history of universe, leaving scientists puzzled

Black hole
(Image credit: NASA)

A team of astronomers has discovered a black hole 12 billion times bigger than the sun and more than twice the mass of other known black holes of a similar age. The celestial body, a region of space so dense with matter that not even light can escape its fierce gravitational field, was announced today in the journal Nature. Its discovery has left the international team, led by astronomers from Peking University in China and the University of Arizona in the US, puzzled about the way black holes are formed.

How was it found?

Astronomers did not see the black hole directly, but spotted a "quasar", defined by National Geographic as a "powerful object lit by a brilliant glow of gas that heats up as it tries to squeeze itself into the black hole itself". The quasar, named SDSS J0100+2802, is 420 trillion times more luminous than our sun and its brightness gives astronomers an idea of the size of its underlying black hole.

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How can astronomers look back in time?

"The farther away we look in space, the deeper we are looking into the past," explains EarthSky, as the farther away an object is, the longer its light takes to reach us. It would take eight minutes for people on earth to realise if the sun burnt out, says Nasa. In the same way, when an astronomer looks at very distant celestial bodies, they are actually looking at an object that existed millions of years in the past. The newly discovered "super-supermassive" black hole existed 900 million years after the Big Bang, which is believed to have taken place 13.7 billion years ago.

Why is the black hole so significant?

It's not the biggest black hole ever found, says National Geographic, but it was formed at an astonishingly early point in the history of the universe, confounding current theories about how black holes are created. Giant black holes were "thought to grow relatively slowly by vacuuming up gas and even stars that venture too close", but this black hole swelled to its enormous size when the universe was just six per cent of its current age. "Our discovery presents a serious challenge to theories about black hole growth in the early universe," said lead researcher Xue-Bing Wu of Peking University. "How could we have this massive black hole when the universe was so young? We don't currently have a satisfactory theory to explain it."

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