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Astronomers recently discovered that a massive black hole in a galaxy far away is the oldest ever recorded, the Washington Post reported.
The “supermassive” object has roughly the same mass as all the stars in that galaxy – known as UHZ1 – combined, and is believed to be more than 13 billion years old.
To put it into cosmic perspective, the Big Bang happened around 13.7 billion years ago.
For their study, researchers relied on data gathered from two NASA space telescopes: The Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the James Webb Space Telescope.
Data showed that light from UHZ1 was emitted 13.2 billion years ago, while its large size suggests that it began life as a “heavy seed.”
There are two competing theories about the origin of supermassive black holes, known as light seed and heavy seed.
In the light seed theory, stars collapse into stellar mass black holes, gradually growing into supermassive objects. In contrast, the heavy seed theory posits that a large gas cloud, rather than a single star, undergoes gravitational collapse, forming a supermassive black hole without an intermediate phase.
“In this case, we can say with certainty that the black hole came from a heavy seed,” said lead author Akos Bogdan. “It is a pretty big deal.”
While this is only one galaxy, the finding can help scientists better understand how the universe was shaped in its current state, as well as solve the mystery of how these black holes came to be soon after the Big Bang.