Astronomers have discovered a black hole that is 12 billion times more massive than the sun.
The new finding, described in a study published in science weekly Nature on Wednesday, could challenge a generally accepted theory about how black holes are formed.
The supermassive black hole, estimated to have been formed only 875 million years after the big bang, is the largest black hole ever spotted for that period, when the universe was just six percent of its current age.
This questions the rate at which the black holes grow as they do so relatively slowly by vacuuming gas and other stars that get too close.
“Forming such a large black hole so quickly is hard to interpret with current theories,” said Dr. Fuyan Bian, from the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University, and author of the paper that appeared in the journal.
As they absorb mass, black holes create radiation pressure, which pushes away the mass, setting a limit for growth.
The fact that the newly-found black hole has so much mass questions the limit factor.
“How do you build such a big black hole in such a short time?” asks Xue-Bing Wu of China’s Peking University, the lead author of the study.
The team that spotted the black hole used telescopes in China, Hawaii, Arizona, and Chile.