False-color image of the most distant black hole currently known. In addition to the bright central black hole (white), the image shows the surrounding host galaxy (red). The white bar indicates an angle on the sky of 4 arcseconds or 1/900th of a degree
Most scientists believe the universe is rapidly expanding following a catastrophic event known as the Big Bang.
Light from distant objects is therefore stretched and shifted to longer wavelengths. This process, known as the redshift, is used to calculate huge distances in space.
Study leader Dr Goto said: ‘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.’
Scientists hope the new images will explain how galaxies and black holes have managed to evolve together.
Black holes cannot be seen directly because they are so dense that light cannot escape from their gravitational pull.
However, matter falling into a black hole heats up from friction as it swirls around the event horizon of the black hole at great speeds. The hot material radiates strongly in ultraviolet and visible light.
Until now, studying host galaxies in the distant universe has been extremely difficult
because the blinding bright light from the vicinity of the black hole makes it more difficult to see the already faint light from the host galaxy.
To see the supermassive black hole, the team of scientists used new red-sensitive charge-coupled devices (CCDs) installed in the Suprime-Cam camera on the Subaru telescope on Mauna Kea.
CCDs are used in many light detecting gadgets from photocopiers to bar-code readers. In astronomy they are used to collect analogue information (such as light or an electrical charge from a distant object) and convert it into digital information that can be analyzed by computer software.
Professor Satoshi Miyazaki of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) is a lead investigator for the creation of the new CCDs and a collaborator on this project. He said: ‘The improved sensitivity of the new CCDs has brought an exciting
discovery as its very first result.’
A careful analysis of the colours revealed that 40 per cent of light around 9100Angstrom is from the host galaxy itself and 60 per cent is from the surrounding ionized nebulae illuminated by the black hole.