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Using the observatories Gemini and Cerro Tololo, an international team of astronomers has just discovered the quasar mass found up to now in the early Universe, with a black hole in its interior whose mass is equivalent to 1,500 million soles . Quasars are the most energetic in the Universe, and since its discovery, at the end of the last decade of the 50’s, astronomers and cosmologists have tried to find out when appeared for the first time in our cosmic history.

The new quasar is the second most distant found up to now, more than 13,000 million light years away from Earth, but its tremendous mass twice that of the only other quasar found at the same time, just 700 million years after the Big Bang, The finding, which has been possible after a decade of observations, challenges the current theories of formation and growth of supermassive black holes and galaxies in the early Universe.

The Gemini Observatory consists of two twin telescopes of 8.1 meters, located in the two hemispheres of the Earth. One, the Telescope North, is on the dormant volcano Mauna Kea, in Hawaii, and the other, the Telescope South, located in Cerro Pachón, in Chile. Together, the two telescopes manage to cover the entire sky in both hemispheres throughout the year. The inter-American Observatory of Cerro Tololo, for its part, consists of five telescopes and is within walking distance of the Gemini South telescope, in Chile.

In honor of his discovery, thanks to a telescope on Maunakea, a mountain revered by the hawaiian culture, the quasar received the indigenous name of Pōniuā’ena, that means “fountain swivel invisible creation, surrounded by brilliance” . It is the first quasar to receive a name is hawaiian.

A monster is born near the Big Bang

According to the current theory, quasars are “fed” by supermassive black holes . As the black holes gobble up the surrounding matter, such as dust, gas or even stars whole, emit enormous amounts of energy, and a brightness that comes to overshadow that of entire galaxies. And Pōniuā’ena is one of the two most distant discovered so far. According to the study, which will appear shortly in Astrophysical Journal Letters and is already available in the server prepublicaciones ArXiv, the light from this quasar took exactly 13.020 million years to cover the distance that separates it from our planet and of the telescopes that have observed. Which means that Pōniuā’ena already existed just 700 million years after the Big Bang , a time so remote that the Earth and the Sun was still close to 8,000 million years to begin to form.

“Is the first monster of this type that we know -explains Jinyi Yang, a researcher at the Steward Observatory of the University of Arizona and lead author of the study-. And we don’t know how it has had sufficient time to go from being a small black hole (the theory) to have the huge size that we have observed”.

indeed, the delicate question of how you can get to be a black hole so huge when the entire Universe was still in its infancy is something that haunts astronomers for a long time . According to Xiaohui Fan, a coauthor of the research, “the discovery is the biggest of the challenges for the current theory of the formation and growth of black holes in the early Universe”. In fact, it is difficult to continue to think that a black hole the size of Pōniuā’ena may have evolved from the collapse of a single star in such a short time since the Big Bang.

The seed of a black hole

According to the authors, should be considered rather other possible explanation: that the quasar started its existence as a “seed” black hole, one that already had at least 10,000 solar masses just a few tens of million years after the Big Bang.

Pōniuā’ena was discovered through a systematic search of almost ten years of quasars more distant. The team discovered a possible quasar in the data and, in 2019, as observed with several telescopes.

“The observations with Gemini -explains Present Wang, another of the authors of the study – were critical to obtain the spectra of near-infrared high-quality they gave us the amazing mass of the black hole “.

The finding of a quasar at the dawn of creation has provided researchers a rare glimpse into a time in which the Universe was very young and completely different from the current one. Current theories suggest that, shortly after the Big Bang, the atoms were still too hot as to interact with each other, join and start to form stars and galaxies, that did not arise until about 400 million years after the big bang, in the so-called “Epoch of Reionization”.

to Understand the birth of massive galaxies

For this reason, the discovery of quasars as Pōniuā’ena just at that moment is a step of extreme importance in order to understand how they came about the first massive galaxies. Pōniuā’ena has placed new and important restrictions on the evolution of the matter in those far-off days.

“it Seems that this quasar -explained Fan – existed just in the middle of the epoch of Reionization, and the fact that we can observe objects as this will help us to understand what happened.”

Already in 2018, the same team announced the discovery of the remains of the quasar most distant found so far, but its mass is almost half that of Pōniuā’ena. Designated as J1342 + 0928, that object is, in addition, only two million years old (and far away) that Pōniuā’ena, a difference that according to Fan, who was involved in both discoveries, it is quite negligible for the standard cosmic .

“Two million light years between 13,000 million -concluded Fan – turns it into something pretty close to a tie”.