Implications of an Enormous, Early Black Hole

Editor’s note: AAS Nova is on vacation until 2 November. Normal posting will resume at that time; in the meantime, we’ll be taking this opportunity to look at a few interesting AAS journal articles that have recently been in the news or drawn attention.

Scientists have discovered a monster in the early universe, and it’s challenging our understanding of how black holes grow. A recent study led by Jinyi Yang (Steward Observatory, University of Arizona) details the detection of a massive quasar — the bright, accreting supermassive black hole at the center of an active galaxy — at a redshift of z = 7.515, a distance corresponding to a time just 700 million years after the Big Bang. The quasar was detected using three observatories on Maunakea in Hawai’i, and it was given the name Pōniuā’ena. This monster is the second-most distant quasar known — and, weighing in at roughly 1.5 billion solar masses, it’s nearly twice the size of the most distant quasar we’ve detected.

We think that the first stars, galaxies, and black holes began to form during the Epoch of Reionization, roughly 400 million years after the Big Bang. Pōniuā’ena’s existence therefore poses a puzzle: how could a black hole possibly grow to such an enormous size in just 300 million years?

Check out the video below for an overview of the discovery from Keck Observatory, as well as some insight into the quasar’s name.

Original article: “Pōniuā’ena: A Luminous z = 7.5 Quasar Hosting a 1.5 Billion Solar Mass Black Hole,” Jinyi Yang et al 2020 ApJL 897 L14. doi:10.3847/2041-8213/ab9c26
Keck Observatory press release: Monster Black Hole Found In The Early Universe