“Scientists have discovered the oldest black hole yet,” reports the CBC, calling it “a cosmic beast formed a mere 470 million years after the Big Bang.”

“The findings, published Monday, confirm what until now were theories that supermassive black holes existed at the dawn of the universe…”

Given the universe is 13.7 billion years old, that puts the age of this black hole at 13.2 billion years. Even more astounding to scientists, this black hole is a whopper — 10 times bigger than the black hole in our own Milky Way. It’s believed to weigh anywhere from 10 to 100 per cent the mass of all the stars in its galaxy, said lead author Akos Bogdan of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. That is nowhere near the miniscule ratio of the black holes in our Milky Way and other nearby galaxies — an estimated 0.1 per cent, he noted. “It’s just really early on in the universe to be such a behemoth,” said Yale University’s Priyamvada Natarajan, who took part in the study published in the journal Nature Astronomy. A companion article appeared in the Astrophysical Journal Letters…

The researchers believe the black hole formed from colossal clouds of gas that collapsed in a galaxy next door to one with stars. The two galaxies merged, and the black hole took over.

The researchers combined data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, reports NASA:

“We needed Webb to find this remarkably distant galaxy and Chandra to find its supermassive black hole,” said Akos Bogdan of the Center for Astrophysics/Harvard & Smithsonian who leads a new paper in the journal Nature Astronomy describing these results. “We also took advantage of a cosmic magnifying glass that boosted the amount of light we detected.” This magnifying effect is known as gravitational lensing…

This discovery is important for understanding how some supermassive black holes can reach colossal masses soon after the big bang. Do they form directly from the collapse of massive clouds of gas, creating black holes weighing between about 10,000 and 100,000 Suns? Or do they come from explosions of the first stars that create black holes weighing only between about 10 and 100 Suns…? Bogdan’s team has found strong evidence that the newly discovered black hole was born massive… The large mass of the black hole at a young age, plus the amount of X-rays it produces and the brightness of the galaxy detected by Webb, all agree with theoretical predictions in 2017 by co-author Priyamvada Natarajan of Yale University for an “Outsize Black Hole” that directly formed from the collapse of a huge cloud of gas.

“We think that this is the first detection of an ‘Outsize Black Hole’ and the best evidence yet obtained that some black holes form from massive clouds of gas,” said Natarajan. “For the first time we are seeing a brief stage where a supermassive black hole weighs about as much as the stars in its galaxy, before it falls behind.” The researchers plan to use this and other results pouring in from Webb and those combining data from other telescopes to fill out a larger picture of the early universe.