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Scientists Claim to Have Discovered Oldest Black Hole Ever

Black Hole in a Globular Cluster
Black Hole in a Globular Cluster. Credit: NASA Hubble. CC BY 2.0/flickr

A newly-discovered black hole, claimed to be the oldest ever found, is eating up material from an ancient galaxy at an unprecedented rate.

Researchers, led by an academic from the University of Cambridge, claim to have discovered a black hole so old it may date as far back as the beginning of the universe, namely thirteen billion years ago.

The black hole is around six million times the size of the sun. The study, citing current theories, suggests the cosmological entity is so massive that it should have taken hundreds of millions years longer to grow to its current size. In total, it is expected that it would have taken a billion years to fully develop.

Nonetheless, the vast black hole began growing just four hundred million years after the Big Bang. Researchers claim this would make it around two hundred million years older than any other observed black hole.

Speaking to Sky News, Cambridge University’s Roberto Maiolino said: “It’s very early in the universe to see a black hole this massive, so we’ve got to consider other ways they might form.”

Discovered with the James Webb Space Telescope, the supermassive black hole is consuming an ancient galaxy named GN-z11, which is 13.4 billion light years away.
The research team claims that it is eating up material from the galaxy at a much faster rate than black holes from later time periods, potentially as much as five times faster.

Did the ‘Oldest’ Black Hole Form in the Way Previously Believed?

Astronomers estimate that black holes, such as the one at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, formed over billions of years. However the size of this latest discovery suggests some black holes may develop in other ways, and could just be “born big.”

“Very early galaxies were extremely gas-rich, so they would have been like a buffet for black holes,” Maiolino told Sky News. According to current theories and models, black holes form from the leftover material of dead stars. These collapse and form giants like the black hole that are around a hundred times the mass of the sun.

Scientists argue that if this newly-discovered black hole had formed in the known way, then it would have taken around a billion years to grow to its observed size. Furthermore, this black hole—like others—is devouring material from its host galaxy, which, as a result, is predicted to be about a hundred times smaller than the Milky Way.

When a black hole takes in too much gas, it forces the air away from itself in a flow of extremely fast wind. This may stop new stars from forming, and it kills the galaxy, according to the latest study.

The black hole itself would also be killed, because it would have destroyed its own source of fuel. As the black hole is so many billions of light years away, it takes just as long for the light around the mass to reach earth .Consequently, scientists are observing the activities that took place that long ago.

The study can be found in the journal Nature.

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