An 800 million solar mass black hole in a significantly neutral universe at redshift 7.5 [GA]

Quasars are the most luminous non-transient objects known, and as such, they enable unparalleled studies of the universe at the earliest cosmic epochs. However, despite extensive efforts from the astronomical community, the quasar ULASJ1120+0641 at z=7.09 (hereafter J1120+0641) has remained as the only one known at z>7 for more than half a decade. Here we report observations of the quasar ULAS J134208.10+092838.61 (hereafter J1342+0928) at a redshift of z=7.54. This quasar has a bolometric luminosity of 4e13 Lsun and a black hole mass of 8e8 Msun. The existence of this supermassive black hole when the universe was only 690 Myr old, i.e., just 5% its current age, reinforces early black hole growth models that allow black holes with initial masses >1e4 Msun or episodic hyper-Eddington accretion. We see strong evidence of the quasar’s Ly-alpha emission line being absorbed by a Gunn-Peterson damping wing from the intergalactic medium, as would be expected if the intergalactic hydrogen surrounding J1342+0928 is significantly neutral. We derive a significant neutral fraction, although the exact value depends on the modeling. However, even in our most conservative analysis we find xHI>0.33 (xHI>0.11) at 68% (95%) probability, indicating that we are probing well within the reionization epoch.

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E. Banados, B. Venemans, C. Mazzucchelli, et. al.
Thu, 7 Dec 17

Comments: Published online in Nature on 06 December 2017