Researchers have located the most distant and oldest quasar to date, 13.03 billion light years from Earth. Feige Wang’s team from the University of Arizona presented the discovery with the technical designation J0313-1806 on a American Astronomical Society Conference in front. Like the astronomers soon in the »Astrophysical Journal Letters« report, the quasar, which contains an extremely massive black hole, is in a state as it looked 670 million years after the Big Bang. J0313-1806 thus offers a glimpse into the early days of the universe, because at that time it was only around five percent of its current age of 13.8 billion years.
Wang and his colleagues made the observation with a number of large telescopes placed around the world, including Gemini North in Hawaii and Gemini South in Chile. Quasars are the extremely bright centers of active galaxies. Their high luminosity arises because the extremely massive black hole in the core devours large amounts of the matter in its environment. This also creates the typical accretion disk around the black hole, a kind of gigantic vortex of matter. The accretion disc heats up very strongly in this process and gives off the heat in the form of radiation that covers the entire electromagnetic spectrum – and has an extreme luminosity.
The quasar J0313-1806 consists of an extremely massive black hole with 1.6 billion solar masses. It shines around 1000 times as brightly as the entire Milky Way system. The cosmological redshift, which is a measure of the distance, has a value of z = 7.642 for this quasar. With the redshift, astronomers determine the distance from Earth and also determine the age of a cosmic object. The following applies: the higher the redshift, the further away and older a celestial object is. In this case, the J0313-1806 galaxy is around 13.03 billion light years old, only 670 million years old after the Big Bang.
For Feige Wang and his team, the discovery raises new research questions about how galaxies could have formed so early: “Black holes that emerged from the first massive stars cannot actually have become this big within a few hundred million years,” says the astronomer according to a press release from the Noirlab involved. According to Wang, astronomers have not yet observed such an early interaction between a black hole and its surrounding galaxy.
Researchers discovered the previous record holder among the quasars in 2017 at a distance of 13.01 billion light years. At the core of this galaxy is a black hole with about 800 million solar masses.