The black hole was detected by Eduardo Bañados of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who was scouring surveys of the sky to look for ancient objects like this one.
The astronomer who found the odd 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.
Even in the most generous and optimistic estimate of the formation of black holes, creating such a massive one in such a relatively short period of time would be impossible. That mass is not unusual for supermassive black holes, but it is hard to explain - using current black hole formation theories - how it came together at such an early time in the universe's history.
Artist's conception of the discovery of the most-distant quasar known. The black hole formed only 690 million years after the Big Bang - aka, when the universe was just 5 percent of its current age, NPR writes. As the gas falls into the black hole, it speeds up, heats up and brightens, which allows astronomers to see them from across the universe.
The most interesting aspect of this supermassive black hole is its age - it's 13 billion light years away, which scientists determined via redshift.
The team believes that the newly discovered black hole existed in an environment that was about half neutral, half ionized.
"We expected as we looked further back into time that the black holes would be smaller and smaller because they hadn't had as much time to grow", says Rob Simcoe, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the authors of a newly published research paper in Nature. It's especially interesting because the bulk of the hydrogen in the quasar appears to be neutral, rather than ionized.
The higher the redshift, the greater the distance, and the farther back astronomers are looking in time when they observe the object.
"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", Daniel Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, also a coauthor on the paper, said in another statement.
"What we have found is that the universe was about 50/50 - it's a moment when the first galaxies emerged from their cocoons of neutral gas and started to shine their way out", said Professor Simcoe.
The new black hole's mass, calculated after more observations, adds to an existing problem. "This is the most accurate measurement of that time, and a real indication of when the first stars turned on". It's part of a long-term search for the earliest quasars, which will continue. Immediately following the Big Bang, the universe resembled a cosmic soup of hot, extremely energetic particles.
Astronomers have at least two gnawing questions about the first billion years of the universe, an era steeped in literal fog and figurative mystery.