How do you get so massive so fast? The answer could be a big problem for our standard picture of cosmology.
Out in the extreme distances of the Universe, the first quasars can be found.
Supermassive black holes at the centers of young galaxies accelerate matter to tremendous speeds, causing them to emit jets of radiation.
What we observe enables us to reconstruct the mass of the central black hole, and explore the ultra-distant Universe.
Recently, a new black hole, J1342+0928, was discovered to originate from 13.1 billion years ago: when the Universe was 690 million years old, just 5% of its current age.
It has a mass of 800 million Suns, an exceedingly high figure for such early times.
Even if this black hole formed from the very first stars, it would have to accrete matter and grow at the maximum rate possible — the Eddington limit — to reach this size so rapidly.
Fortunately, there are other ways to grow a supermassive black hole.
When new bursts of star formation occur, large numbers of massive stars are created.
These can either directly collapse or go supernova, creating large numbers of massive black holes which then merge and grow.
Only 20 black holes this large should exist so early in the Universe.
Is this a problem for cosmology? More data will decide.
Mostly Mute Monday tells the astronomical story of an object, phenomenon, or mystery in visuals, images, and no more than 200 words.Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.