In the universe there may be a "very young" black hole, dating back to "just" 850 million years after the Big Bang. This is the first evidence of the existence of a hidden black hole from such a remote era and the discovery was made possible by analyzing data collected by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.
It is a quasar – an extremely bright supermassive black hole. From millions to billions of times denser than the sun, supermassive black holes grow by absorbing material from a disk of surrounding matter. Rapid growth generates large amounts of radiation in a very small region around the black hole.
According to current theories, the dense cloud of gas that feeds material into the disk around a supermassive black hole during its early growth period "envelops" or hides most of the quasar's bright light. As the black hole consumes material and becomes more massive, the gas in the cloud runs out, allowing the black hole and its shiny disk to be discovered.
“It is extraordinarily challenging to find quasars in this overcast phase because much of their radiation is absorbed and cannot be detected by current instruments,” says Fábio Vito, CAS-CONICYT Fellow of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, who led the study now available online. . "Thanks to Chandra and the ability of X-rays to penetrate the dark cloud, we think we finally got it."
From the telescope's first observations, the black hole could correspond to a known quasar (called PSO 167-13) or an unidentified quasar present in a nearby galaxy. In either case, however, it would be the most distant black hole ever observed, as well as the earliest in the history of the cosmos.
According to NASA, the authors intend to continue with the observations to learn more. They also intend to look for more examples of highly obscured black holes. "We suspect most of the early supermassive black holes in the universe are hidden: it is therefore crucial to detect and study them to understand how they can grow rapidly to masses of a billion suns," said co-author Roberto. Gilli from INAF in Bologna, Italy.