We Just Discovered an Ancient Supermassive Black Hole That's Older Than Light

Monday, 18 December 2017 - 12:21PM
Space
Black Holes
Monday, 18 December 2017 - 12:21PM
We Just Discovered an Ancient Supermassive Black Hole That's Older Than Light
Image credit: Pixabay
When scientists announced that there's a gigantic black hole out on the edge of space that's older than light itself, it sounded like the beginning of a sci-fi horror movie.

This ancient black hole is so old that scientists actually used it to figure out when the very first stars burst into life.

What makes it more frightening is that this black hole shouldn't even be as big as it is—roughly 800 million times the mass of our sun. We don't know how that's possible.

See, this black hole was apparently created just 690 million years after the Big Bang (which is relatively early in the universe's 14 billion-year history).

It took the light from that part of space around 13 billion years to reach us, meaning that we're actually looking at an image of the hole as it appeared way back then.

Astronomers reasonably assumed that a black hole would start out small and need to grow over time to reach the size of this one, but this particular hole was already huge 13 billion years ago. 

"We expected as we looked further back into time that the black holes would be smaller and smaller because they hadn't had as much time to grow," said Rob Simcoe, an astrophysicist at MIT.

"What was surprising here was that this one seemed to be fully formed even though the universe was very young at this period in time."

Now back to that "older than light itself" thing.

After studying the composition of this black hole, scientists discovered that its formation was affected by the light from the first stars.

This allowed scientists to figure out (with 1-2 percent accuracy) when starlight first appeared in our universe. According to Simcoe, light alone may have changed the properties of matter in the early universe, including the hole.

All this sounds like something that a scientist would explain to a space agency before launching a doomed space exploration mission to investigate this black hole, inevitably triggering a chain of events that unleashes Lovecraftian space horrors upon the galaxy.

Either way, the hole will be sitting out there, waiting for us.
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We Just Discovered an Ancient Supermassive Black Hole That's Older Than Light
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