Astronomers have discovered about 750,000 quasars, which are one of the brightest and most vibrant celestial bodies in the universe. Although the name is not clear, J0313-1806 is different from other quasars. This is the most recently discovered object, the oldest known quasar in the universe, and a supermassive black hole over 13 billion years old. In fact, it is so old and huge that scientists do not know exactly how it was formed.
The earliest quasars were discovered in the middle of the 20th century, but it wasn’t until decades later that we began to understand what these objects were. Quasars are active nuclei of the Milky Way, in which supermassive black holes anchoring galaxies inhale material to form gaseous accretion disks. All these materials collide when they spin into the black hole, releasing a large amount of electromagnetic energy, which becomes a sign of these objects. For example, the amount of light emitted by J0313-1806 is 1,000 times that of the entire Milky Way.
J0313-1806 is far away from us-13.03 billion light-years to be exact. This means that we saw this object because it was only 670 million years from the Big Bang, still huge. Astronomers estimate that the solar mass of J0313-1806 is approximately 1.6 billion of its observation age. For supermassive black holes elsewhere in the universe, this is not untimely, but they take longer to clean up matter and get bigger. J0313-1806 should not have had time to grow so large in the early universe.
The team used ground instruments such as the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) and Mauna Kea Observatory (MKO) to discover J0313-1806 last year. It replaces the previous record holder for the oldest quasar, which is approximately 20 million years younger. The current black hold formation model assumes that stars collapse to form singularities, but the “seed mass” of J0313-1806 must be at least 10,000 solar masses to reach 1.6 billion so quickly.
The study put forward a hypothesis to explain the existence of this bizarre quasar, the so-called direct collapse scenario. In this model, it is not that the star that formed the supermassive black hole collapses. On the contrary, the huge cloud of cold hydrogen gas collapsed inward, forming a black hole much larger than that possible from any stellar source. This may explain why astronomers saw such huge black holes in the early universe.
Unfortunately, J0313-1806 is so far away that we cannot use current technology to gather more details. However, the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope may be accurate enough to image objects like J0313-1806. After years of delay, NASA plans to launch the Webb telescope in the second half of 2021.