The discovery of a supermassive black hole from the early cosmos is set to rewrite physics, say scientists.
An international team of astronomers detected a black hole 12 billion times the mass of our Sun, they report today in the journal Nature .
The black hole, which formed just 900 million years after the Big Bang, is the source of a powerful beam of bright material known as a quasar.
"When we found this supermassive black hole we got very excited because we had found something that we never thought we could find," says Dr Fuyan Bian of the Australian National University.
The team, led by Xue-Bing Wu at Peking University, discovered the black hole and quasar -- known as SDSS JO100+2802 -- using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, then followed up with three other telescopes.
With a luminosity of 420 trillion that of our Sun's, the new quasar is seven times brighter than the most distant quasar known.
"This quasar is very unique. Just like the brightest lighthouse in the distant universe, its glowing light will help us probe more about the early Universe," says Wu.
Challenging physicsBut the discovery of the supermassive black hole powering the quasar presents a mystery: how can such a monster black hole grow so quickly in the early Universe?
"It's very hard to make these kinds of supermassive black holes very early in the universe," says Bian.
"We need to find some new theory that can grow the supermassive black hole much faster than we thought."
Supermassive black holes are believed to have formed in conjunction with galaxies in the early Universe but according to current theories there must be a careful balancing of forces to build a black hole.
As material accelerates under the force of gravity towards a black hole, it heats up, emitting an extraordinary amount of energy in the form of a quasar.
But the energy of the quasar actually pushes material away from the black hole so if it is too great it can stop material falling onto to the black hole altogether.
These forces must be balanced, which limits how fast a black hole can grow. This fact, combined with the small amount of matter available in the early Universe in the first place, make it hard for scientists to explain how the supermassive black hole came into existence.
"With this supermassive black hole, very early in the Universe, that theory cannot work," says Bian.
"It's time for a new hypothesis and for some new physics."