A new supermassive black hole puzzles scientists

Scientists have found a black hole 12 billion times more massive than the Sun that was formed so soon after the Big Bang it's challenging what we know about black holes.

Anthony Domanico
CNET freelancer Anthony Domanico is passionate about all kinds of gadgets and apps. When not making words for the Internet, he can be found watching Star Wars or "Doctor Who" for like the zillionth time. His other car is a Tardis.
Anthony Domanico
2 min read

This is a rendering of the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way, which is 2,400 times smaller than the one described by researchers in an article released this week in the journal Nature. X-ray: NASA/CXC/UMass/D. Wang et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI/D.Wang et al.; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSC/S.Stolovy

Astronomers have found a new, supermassive black hole that's 12 billion times more massive than the sun, and the discovery, described in a paper published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, challenges the currently understood laws of physics.

The black hole was formed just 875 million years after the Big Bang, according to National Geographic. At 12 billion times the sun's mass, it's the largest black hole of that age that's ever been found, and it's also situated at the center of the brightest quasar that's ever been discovered. Given what we currently know about how black holes are formed and grow over time, a hole of that magnitude that soon after the Big Bang shouldn't be possible.

"Our discovery presents a serious challenge to theories about the black hole growth in the early universe," lead researcher Xue-Bing Wu from Peking University in Beijing told Reuters. "It may require either very special ways to grow the black hole within a very short time or the existence of a huge seed black hole when the first-generation stars and galaxies formed. Both are difficult to be explained by the current theories."

Almost every galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its center. For comparison purposes, the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy is about 4-5 million times the mass of the sun, making the newly found massive black hole roughly 2,400 times as large as our own.

As astronomers begin to digest the research presented by the astronomers and scientists in the journal Nature, they'll likely begin to learn much more about how such a massive body could have been formed so early on in the universe. For now they, just like the rest of us, are pretty much stumped.

Go way more in depth about the finding of the new black hole and quasar by reading the paper for yourself.