≡ Menu

Unusual Find 12.8 Billion Light Years Out

Here’s a surprise — a galaxy as large as the Milky Way that houses a supermassive black hole with the equivalent of a billion suns worth of matter. The surprise isn’t the object itself but its distance, some 12.8 billion light years (redshift 6.43). [See Adam Crowl’s comment below: This is not actually a ‘distance’ but the light travel time]. That makes this a young object, assuming a universe that began roughly 13.7 billion years ago, and has implications for how such galaxies form. Tomotsugu Goto (University of Hawaii), who led the team making the discovery, notes the unusual nature of his find:

“It is surprising that such a giant galaxy existed when the Universe was only one-sixteenth of its present age, and that it hosted a black hole one billion times more massive than the Sun. The galaxy and black hole must have formed very rapidly in the early universe.”


It seems odd to say it, but what complicates studying such distant objects is that host galaxies are often lost in the glare of the central black hole. The black hole emits no light, of course, but infalling material heated up by friction as it moves around the event horizon puts out a strong signature in visible and ultraviolet light. This University of Hawaii at Manoa news release notes that 40 percent of the light around 9100 angstroms comes from the host galaxy itself, while 60 percent is from the ionized materials around the black hole.

Image: False-color image of the QSO (Quasi-Stellar Object) CFHQSJ2329-0301, the most distant black hole currently known. In addition to the bright central black hole (white), the image shows the surrounding host galaxy (red). Credit: Tomotsugu Goto, University of Hawaii.

That light may make galaxy observations tricky, but it’s quite useful in the study of the central object. The amount of light emitted depends upon the mass of the black hole. Assuming a spherically symmetrical shell, the maximum brightness, called the ‘Eddington luminosity,’ allows us to calculate a maximum value for the mass. The huge black hole most likely formed from the merger of smaller black holes, of which the galaxy in question seems to provide a supply, but the formation mechanism is not fully understood.

The paper is Goto et al., “A QSO host galaxy and its Lyα emission at z=6.43,” to be published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society online edition, and currently available here.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • kurt9 September 3, 2009, 14:21

    Maybe the big bang theory is wrong. Does anyone ever consider this possibility?

  • Adam September 3, 2009, 16:27

    Hi Paul

    According to Prof. Ned Wright’s Cosmology Calculator the “co-moving radial distance” to the quasar at z = 6.43 is 28 billion ly. The 12.8 billion years is the “light travel time” not an actual distance.



    …always a good thing to keep in mind. At least you quoted the redshift, something science reporters almost never do (much to Ned’s annoyance.)

  • Administrator September 3, 2009, 16:33

    Adam, I put in an addendum to the original post noting your point — hope this clarifies.

  • Mike September 3, 2009, 17:12

    In response to Kurt9,
    Sure, many aspects of modern cosmology have difficult problems.
    The puzzle of dark matter springs to mind for example.
    How ever nobody has developed an acceptible alternative to the big bang theory at this time. It’s still the one that best fits the observations so far.
    Various other cosmological theories are even more flawed and as such are
    not seriously considered by most astronomers.
    You could look it up on the net.

  • tacitus September 3, 2009, 18:03

    Maybe the big bang theory is wrong. Does anyone ever consider this possibility?

    I’m sure that most cosmologists consider the possibility every now and then, but there is just so much data out there that can’t (currently) be explained any other way, there would have to be a really extraordinary find to overturn th prevailing thought.

  • andy September 3, 2009, 18:32

    As Adam has pointed out, in general relativity there are several ways to define distance, so you have to be very careful what you actually mean! This kind of casual screwing around with space and time can make your head hurt…

  • Marcel F. Williams September 3, 2009, 20:52

    The earliest days of the universe should have been the age of super massive stars and super massive black holes. Most of the matter in the universe is probably in the form of black holes that were first created in the early ages of the universe.

  • Administrator September 3, 2009, 21:41

    andy, it wouldn’t be the first time general relativity has made my head hurt!

  • Adam September 3, 2009, 22:09

    Hi Marcel

    Indeed. It’s possible that most dark matter is actually black holes – with a certain size range they would fit neatly within the MACHO limits and not be over abundant. If so then at least 6 times the mass of the visible matter is locked away in black holes. If primordial black-holes are a significant fraction of that mass then they might be accessible to use for interstellar rocketry, though they pose some interesting challenges technologically to use.

  • Erik Anderson September 4, 2009, 0:34

    I fully expect even more spectacular discoveries of deeply evolved high-z galaxies in the years to come. This does not presage a total failure of Big Bang Cosmology, but rather demonstrates the implausibility of the “Dark Energy” scenario of “accelerated cosmic expansion.” An alternative model of the redshift-to-velocity relationship developed by Charles Francis estimates the universe to be 2 billion years older than the standard LCDM model assumes at the range of z=6, thus allowing sufficent time to elapse in cosmic history for galaxies to form.

    See: http://rqgravity.net/Supernova

  • george scaglione September 4, 2009, 10:13

    this is a very interesting article which by the way i was lucky enough to have read independently yesterday! good to see it here for further discussion! and yes i understand that alot of folks are currently thinking that maybe,just maybe,the big bang theory is not all we thought it was.thank you your friend george

  • kurt9 September 5, 2009, 14:07

    How ever nobody has developed an acceptable alternative to the big bang theory at this time. It’s still the one that best fits the observations so far.
    Various other cosmological theories are even more flawed and as such are
    not seriously considered by most astronomers.

    This is true. However, cosmologists keep coming up with concepts like inflation, dark energy, and what not, in order to square their observations with the current big bang postulate. These strike me as kludges in order to maintain the validity of the big bang theory.

  • ROCA September 6, 2009, 17:32

    GRB 090423, with z=8,2, is the most distant object detected, 630 million years after Big Bang.

    What originated it? A Population I star explosion? or Population II?

    We need to explore the observable Universe boundaries.

    I hope JWST will bring a new vision of the Universe infancy.

  • Ron S September 6, 2009, 22:17

    kurt9: “…cosmologists keep coming up with concepts like inflation, dark energy, and what not, in order to square their observations with the current big bang postulate.”

    No. They come up with these to explain the **data**.

  • ljk October 15, 2009, 0:13


    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    Artificial Black Hole Created in Chinese Lab

    Cloaking technology used to create a region of space that allows microwaves in, but not out again

    If you haven’t heard of metamaterials and what they can do, where have you been? Most of the media coverage so far has focused on invisibility cloaks but that’s just the start of the fun physicists can have with this stuff. Only a few weeks ago we were discussing how to recreate the big bang inside a metamaterial. And earlier this year, a group of physicists suggested that it ought to be possible to create a black hole using metamaterials. That’s an interesting idea but a demonstration would be more exciting.

    Step forward Qiang Cheng and Tie Jun Cui at the State Key Laboratory of Millimeter Waves at Southeast University in Nanjing, China, who have used metamaterials to create the world’s first artificial black hole in their lab. Yep, a real black hole.

    That’s not quite as scary as it sounds. A black hole is a region of space from which light cannot escape (that’s why it’s black). According to Einsteins’ theory relativity, black holes form when space becomes so distorted by a large mass that light cannot escape its gravitational field.

    But gravity needn’t be involved. Metamaterials also distort space, as far as light is concerned anyway (in fact there is a formal mathematical analogy between these optical and gravitational distortions). Physicists have already exploited this distortion to steer light around an object within a metamaterial to create an invisibility cloak. If that’s possible, then more exotic distortions ought to be possible too.

    Now Qiang and Tie have created a metamaterial that distorts space so severely that light entering it (in this case microwaves) cannot escape.

    Their black hole consists of 60 layers of printed circuit board arranged in concentric circles (see picture below). The printed circuit boards are coated in a thin layer of copper from which Qiang and Tie have etched two types of pattern that either resonate at microwave frequency or do not.

    In their experiments, they’ve measured microwaves at 18 GHz going in and none coming out. And the circular symmetry of their metamaterial means that the microwaves are absorbed in all directions at once. What they’ve built is the world’s first artificial black hole. (In case you’re wondering, the energy absorbed by the black hole is emitted as heat.)

    That’s an exciting piece of physics and not just because it’s a headline grabber. Artificial black holes could have important applications not least as light harvesters for photovoltaics. The prospect of a black hole in every household may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

    Ref: http://arxiv.org/abs/0910.2159: An Electromagnetic Black Hole Made of Metamaterials

  • ljk October 31, 2009, 11:54

    The first accurate parallax distance to a black hole

    Authors: J. C. A. Miller-Jones (1), P. G. Jonker (2,3), V. Dhawan (1), W. Brisken (1), M. P. Rupen (1), G. Nelemans (4), E. Gallo (5) ((1) NRAO, (2) SRON, (3) CfA, (4) Nijmegen, (5) MIT)

    (Submitted on 27 Oct 2009)

    Abstract: Using astrometric VLBI observations, we have determined the parallax of the black hole X-ray binary V404 Cyg to be 0.418 +/- 0.024 milliarcseconds, corresponding to a distance of 2.39 +/- 0.14 kpc, significantly lower than the previously accepted value. This model-independent estimate is the most accurate distance to a Galactic stellar-mass black hole measured to date.

    With this new distance, we confirm that the source was not super-Eddington during its 1989 outburst. The fitted distance and proper motion imply that the black hole in this system likely formed in a supernova, with the peculiar velocity being consistent with a recoil (Blaauw) kick. The size of the quiescent jets inferred to exist in this system is less than 1.4 AU at 22 GHz. Astrometric observations of a larger sample of such systems would provide useful insights into the formation and properties of accreting stellar-mass black holes.

    Comments: Accepted for publication in ApJ Letters. 6 pages, 2 figures

    Subjects: High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena (astro-ph.HE)

    Cite as: arXiv:0910.5253v1 [astro-ph.HE]

    Submission history

    From: James Miller-Jones [view email]

    [v1] Tue, 27 Oct 2009 21:57:43 GMT (81kb)


  • REK July 2, 2010, 16:35

    This may be a shock but this proves my hypothesis that light energy waves when they collapse, because of quantum entanglement, send the information of the distant source to the observer without the effects of time. So we see all distant sources as they are in the now no matter how far they are away. When the wave collapses by observation or detection the light photon, this action at a distance happens at an instant as shown in quantum entanglement experiments with photons. So we cannot see the past like scientists want us to believe. We can only see the distant objects as they are in the now. This is why the distant galaxy here is shown to be nearly the same size and age of our own Milky Way.

  • Ron Mott August 5, 2010, 9:56

    If space is expanding at a speed greater than the speed of light (as many experts have contended), then how can we see anything in the past since the light from any distant object in the universe is traveling at a slower speed and could never reach us.

  • Pat Galea August 6, 2010, 5:02

    Like on the surface of an expanding balloon, the speed of expansion is faster the further away you’re looking. So the space near us isn’t expanding fast at all, but at distant regions it gets very fast. So the “horizon” is a long way away.