Ancient supermassive black hole found

University scientists have helped discover a supermassive black hole, the furthest away to be seen.

The black hole appears to astronomers as a luminous quasar, or swirling disc of gas sitting at the centre of a distant galaxy.

As the gas falls into the black hole, it gets hot and emits radiation, in the form of light.

Global team

An international team of astronomers made the discovery using data from an ongoing sky survey at the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, led by Edinburgh scientists.

The team used a camera which was built at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh.

Their discovery was confirmed by observations with the Gemini North telescope.

Both telescopes are on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

The team then collected an additional set of detailed observations, using telescopes at the European Southern Observatory and in the Canary Islands.

Insight into another age

Light from the quasar began its journey toward Earth only 770 million years after the Big Bang.

Researchers studying the quasar hope to learn more about the conditions in space through which its light has travelled on the way to Earth.

Scientists hope that the quasar will give insights into what conditions were like early in the Universe, 14 billion years ago.

The light gives unprecedented opportunity to study an important chapter in cosmological history, known as the epoch of reionisation.

This occurred some 13 billion years ago, when galaxies and stars began to form

Future projects

The team plans further detailed observations of the quasar, but also hopes to find more phenomona of the same age.

Scientists also hope to unravel how an object formed so early on in the Universe could be so large.

The results are published in Nature.

This discovery is very exciting, as we will understand more about how the first stars and galaxies formed, but also very gratifying - we finally found just what we hoped for when I first proposed this massive survey 10 years ago.

Professor Andrew LawrenceSchool of Physics and Astronomy
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