Gargantuan Black Hole When the Universe was Only 1.2 Billion Years Old

Black Hole Clouds


A gargantuan black hole, known as J2157, 34 billion times the mass of our sun mass, and about 8,000 times bigger than the black hole in the center of the Milky Way, gorges on nearly the equivalent of one sun every day, according to Dr. Christopher Onken at The Australian National University (ANU) about a monster of the early universe that brings an end to time and space and the laws of physics. If the Milky Way’s black hole wanted to grow to that size, “it would have to swallow two thirds of all the stars in our Galaxy,” he added.

“We’re seeing it at a time when the universe was only 1.2 billion years old, less than 10 percent of its current age,” Onken said. “It’s the biggest black hole that’s been weighed in this early period of the Universe.”

Could Ultra-Massive Black Holes Threaten Their Host Galaxies?

Gargantuan Size a Mystery

Exactly how black holes grew so big so early in the life-span of the Universe is still a mystery, but the team is now searching for more black holes in the hope they might provide some clues. 

“We knew we were onto a very massive black hole when we realized its fast growth rate,” said team member Dr. Fuyan Bian, a staff astronomer at the European Southern Observatory (ESO). “How much black holes can swallow depends on how much mass they already have. So, for this one to be devouring matter at such a high rate, we thought it could become a new record holder. And now we know.”

Is this galaxy one of the behemoths of the early Universe?

Measured by ESO’s Very Large Telescope

The team, including researchers from the University of Arizona, used ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile to accurately measure the black hole’s mass.

Massive Black Holes Existed Before the First Stars of the Universe

“With such an enormous black hole, we’re also excited to see what we can learn about the galaxy in which it’s growing,” Onken said. “Is this galaxy one of the behemoths of the early Universe, or did the black hole just swallow up an extraordinary amount of its surroundings? We’ll have to keep digging to figure that out.”

Source: Christopher A Onken et al. A Thirty-Four Billion Solar Mass Black Hole in SMSS J2157-3602, the Most Luminous Known Quasar, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2020). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/staa1635

The Daily Galaxy with Avi Shporer, Research Scientist, MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, via Australian National University and Wheeler, John Archibald. Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics (p. 350, Kindle edition). 

Image credit: Nima Abkenar/ANU

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