Black hole as massive as 12 billion suns found, could change theories of how universe began

Huge black hole has been growing far faster than scientists would expect for a black hole so young

A giant black hole, as massive as 12 billion suns, has been found by astronomers and seems to be growing far too fast.

The black hole is not the biggest that is known, but is far bigger than scientist would expect to be at its age. It got to its huge size 875 million years after the big bang – which scientists wouldn’t expect to happen, since black holes grow as they age and eat other gas and stars that surround them.

Scientists can only see it at that age – 12.8 billion years ago, and 6 per cent of the age of the current universe – because it is so far away. They also can’t look at it directly, because the power of its gravity sucks everything including light into it – but the team that found it saw it by spotting a quasar, an object that gets lit up as it’s heading into the black hole. In a paper reporting their finding, published in Nature and reported in National Geographic, the scientists behind the study say that the finding could change our understanding of how black holes form. It is thought that black holes begin when the first stars collapsed, about 100 million years after the big bang, and that they swelled after that.

But the newly-found black hole is too big to have happened that way, according to Bram Venemans of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, who writes a commentary on the new study.

Other possibilities include a merging of galaxies, bringing two different black holes together. But that depends on the two having the same mass, or they would have cast each other aside rather than merging.

Instead, it’s possible that the first stars that helped create those black holes were huge – as much as a million suns packed into one star. If they collapsed early on, they could have “they could jump-start the formation of very large black holes,” said Loeb.

While that would explain the surprising formulation of the newly-discovered black hole, it depends on such huge stars ever existing. Scientists hope that they can find out whether they did when they send the new James Webb Space Telescope into orbit in 2018