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A ‘cloaked’ black hole, which is considered to be one of the rarest kinds of black hole sightings, was recently found hidden behind a cloud of gas, and it is thought to date back to the early years of the universe. To date, it is the most distant cloaked black hole discovered by scientists, and was found using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

According to NASA, supermassive black holes tend to expand by ‘pulling in material from a disk of surrounding matter’, and its rapid growth produces large amounts of radiation in a tiny region surrounding the black hole, which is known as a ‘quasar’. Astrophysicists and other researchers who conducted this study have said that it is ‘extraordinarily challenging to find quasars in this cloaked phase, because so much of their radiation is absorbed and cannot be detected by current instruments’. In truth, the study’s team of astronomers was initially observing ten quasars found in the early universe, when researchers discovered that one of them, PSO167013, was being significantly obscured by gas. Thus, unearthing this cloaked black hole somewhat came as ‘a complete surprise’, says Niel Brandt, a physicist from Pennsylvania State University and co-author of the study.

Based on its distance from the Earth, this quasar is estimated to have come into existence 850 million years after the Big Bang. The previous-record holder for the furthest quasar discovered was born 1.3 billion years after the Big Bang. This discovery could enable scientists to not only better understand the growth phase of supermassive black holes, but also understand how they grow to a billion times the mass of the sun in a short amount of time.

Students applying for Physics, particularly those with a keen interest in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics, can consider the significance of this discovery and how it can influence further developments within the field.

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