Black holes are a fascination for the scientific community, and a team of astronomers have just found one that's nearly a billion times the mass of our sun. Described as a "behemoth", this newfound black hole is both the oldest and the most distant one that's ever been recorded.
It's believed to have formed just 690 million years after the Big Bang itself. Studying it could help to unlock secrets of the early universe, including how so-called "supermassive black holes" are able to grow so staggeringly large.
Conventional wisdom suggests that the force of gravity from these black holes is strong enough to rip stars apart and send light firing off into the universe. These are called quasars (points of extremely bright electromagnetic radiation) and are a way of determining where black holes are and how large they are. The more distant quasars are also the oldest - as the light has taken the longest time to reach Earth. So viewing them is, quite literally, looking back in time.
This particular black hole (and its associated quasars) has been named ULAS J1342+0928 and is 13.1 billion light years away from us. Given that the universe is 13.8 billion years old, it makes this a real youngster on the cosmological scale. "The most distant quasars can provide key insights to outstanding questions in astrophysics," said Eduardo Bañados, lead author of the study and an astrophysicist at the Carnegie Institution for Science.
“This particular quasar is so bright that it will become a gold mine for follow-up studies and will be a crucial laboratory to study the early universe,” he told Space.com . “We have already secured observations for this object with a number of the most powerful telescopes in the world. More surprises may arise.”