Astronomers have discovered the most distant black hole ever seen, located about 13.2 billion light years away from Earth.
The discovery of the celestial object, which is 10 to 100 million times the mass of the Sun, could help scientists understand how black holes became so large in the infancy of the universe.
Scientists used the James Webb Space Telescope to find the host galaxy and then the Chandra X-ray Observatory to detect the black hole.
Findings were published in the science journal Nature Astronomy, Nasa announced on Monday.
“Now, finally discovering a black hole that was so large, when the universe was so young, tells us that the black hole must have been very large when it was initially formed, probably from the direct collapse of a massive gas cloud,” said Andy Goulding, a research scientist at Princeton University who was part of the study.
Black holes are formed by the catastrophic collapse of a star, an event that compresses matter into such a relatively small space that nothing, not even light, can escape its gravitational pull.
Scientists have spent decades studying the space phenomenon, with the first image of a black hole taken in 2019 using powerful telescopes.
The most recently discovered black hole is located in the UHZ1 galaxy, which showed the presence of intense, superheated gas.
Astronomers were able to use the signs of large amounts of gas being emitted to detect the black hole.
“There are physical limits on how quickly black holes can grow once they’ve formed, but ones that are born more massive have a head start,” said Mr Goulding.
“It’s like planting a sapling, which takes less time to grow into a full-sized tree than if you started with only a seed.”
The James Webb Space Telescope played a crucial role in helping to find the galaxy that the black hole was located in.
It was launched on Christmas Day of 2021 to help scientists learn more about the formation of the universe.
The first image from the telescope was revealed by US President Joe Biden on July 11. It showed the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it was 4.6 billion years ago.
Researchers have been using the telescope to learn more about the solar system and its planets.
Last year, released images showed the planet Jupiter in striking detail.
The planet, which is believed to have 79 moons, has a unique composition and inner structure that researchers want to further study.