Astronomers have discovered the oldest black hole to be observed by humans and they say it is eating its host galaxy to death.

Researchers led by the University of Cambridge have used the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to detect the phenomena which is said to date back some 400 million years.

According to the researchers, the black hole, which is a few million times the mass of the Sun, challenges some of our assumptions about the universe.

The size of the black hole suggests that these might form in other ways.

New black hole discovery changes our understanding of how they form

For example, they may be born big and consume matter five times higher than had previously been thought possible.

Lead author Professor Roberto Maiolino said: “It’s very early in the universe to see a black hole this massive, so we’ve got to consider other ways they might form.

“Very early galaxies were extremely gas-rich, so they would have been like a buffet for black holes.”

The usual understanding of supermassive black holes is that they are formed from the remnants of dead stars which collapse.

If the newly observed black hole had formed this way, it would have taken a billion years to get to where it is now.

Like other black holes, this one is devouring materials from its host galaxy to fuel its growth.

The study suggests that the black hole, found at the centre of a young host galaxy, called GN-z11, gobbles matter much more vigorously than others.

Prof Maiolino says that the gigantic leap forward provided by Nasa/European Space Agency (Esa)/ Canadian Space Agency (CSA)’s JWST makes this the most exciting time in his career.

He explained: “Before Webb came online, I thought maybe the universe isn’t so interesting when you go beyond what we could see with the Hubble Space Telescope.

“But that hasn’t been the case at all: the universe has been quite generous in what it’s showing us, and this is just the beginning.”

Black holes cannot be directly observed, but instead, they are detected by a tell-tale glow which forms near the edges of a black hole, and energy being radiated in the ultraviolet range.