In addition, he says, it looks like this black hole formed in a cosmic environment that was only just starting to be affected by light from the first stars.
The black hole is positioned at the center of a quasar, the massive, highly luminous accretion disks found at the center of many galaxies.
"This is the only object we have observed from this era", researcher Robert Simcoe said in a statement from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This means that, in looking at this object, we are looking at the universe as it was just hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang. But this black hole arose in a universe that was only 690 million years old - not almost enough time to accumulate the mass needed to grow so big.
The astronomer who found the unusual black hole said that there's no way of explaining how a black hole would be able to pick up such mass, and that it might challenge out current understandings of how black holes form. As the universe expanded in size, those particles cooled down, and as they did they formed into a neutral hydrogen gas during which it was completely dark.
"In some sense, what we've done is determine with a high degree of accuracy when the first stars in the universe turned on", he said. Scientists say even accumulating at the fastest known rate would not produce a supermassive black hole of 800 million solar masses in such a short amount of time.
As more stars and galaxies filled the void, their radiation began to energize the hydrogen, allowing the electrons bound to the nucleus to recombine and generate other chemical reactions.
"It's a moment when the first galaxies emerged from their cocoons of neutral gas and started to shine their way out", Simcoe said. The quasar's light traveled some 13 billion light-years before reaching the Magellan Telescopes.
Between 20 and 100 quasars as bright and as distant as the quasar discovered by Bañados and his team are predicted to exist over the whole sky, so this is a major discovery that will provide fundamental information of the young Universe, when it was only 5 percent its current age. Even older examples could be discovered, scientists said.
Over to NASA, whose Daniel Stern of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena stoked anticipation: "With several next-generation, even-more-sensitive facilities now being built, we can expect many exciting discoveries in the very early universe in the coming years".
According to MIT, black holes grow into supermassive voids as mass slowly accumulates, and this specific black hole should have taken more than 690 million years to come together. "While we wait for the construction of the new generation of giant telescopes, such as the GMT, telescopes such as the Magellans at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile will continue to play a crucial role in the study of the early Universe", added Las Campanas Director Leopoldo Infante.