Time is a strange, strange thing. When you spend an evening watching TV, 8 hours will zoom by in what seems like seconds. Conversely, if you spend an afternoon at work, 4 hours seems to take an age. But these things—hours, days, years—they are human measurements. We obviously use these same measurements when talking about the cosmos, but most of the larger structures in the universe (planets, stars, galaxies—even comets) can’t really be measured in years or centuries…even millennia seems like an inappropriate term.
The thing is, when you start talking about objects that are millions or even billions of years old, things like hours and days lose all meaning. Take, for example, ULAS J1120+0641. This is the oldest black hole ever discovered. How old do you think it is? Go on and have a guess….1 billion years? 2 Billion? 7 Billion? Not even close.
It’s 12.9 billion years old. Data indicates that this black hole formed a mere 770 million years after the Big Bang. The distance to the quasar was determined from observations made by the European Southern Observatory via the FORS2 instrument on the Very Large Telescope and instruments on the Gemini North Telescope. These observations showed that the mass of the black hole is about two billion times that of the Sun, which is amazingly large. So large, in fact, that it’s hard to explain so early on after the Big Bang.
Of course, this just means that we have more studying to do and research to conduce. Undoubtedly, there are many more amazing things we’ve yet to discover.