This monster black hole eats the mass of our own sun every two days and is the fastest-growing quasar ever seen
Astronomers in Australia have found that they believe to be the fastest-growing black hole in the known universe.
The supermassive black hole, or quasar, is thought to have been present in the early universe – when our now 13.8-billion-year-old universe was around 1.2 billion years old – and is such a monster that it swallows the mass of our own sun every two days.
The discovery was made by astronomers at the Australian National University (ANU), led by Dr Christian Wolf of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. The quasar is estimated to be as large as 20 billion suns and radiates ultraviolet and X-ray energy as gas and dust are sucked in. Its immense temperatures are thought to be enough to destroy its host galaxy.
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“This black hole is growing so rapidly that it’s shining thousands of times more brightly than an entire galaxy, due to all of the gases it sucks in daily that cause lots of friction and heat,” said Wolf.
“If we had this monster sitting at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, it would appear ten times brighter than a full moon. It would appear as an incredibly bright pin-point star that would almost wash out all of the stars in the sky.”
The black hole was spotted by the SkyMapper telescope at the ANU Siding Spring Observatory in near-infrared light, with help from the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite. It is not known, however, how a black hole could grow so large so early in the universe, and the ANU team is already on the hunt for other, faster-growing quasars to learn more.
“Black holes at the centres of galaxies reach masses of over ten billion times that of our sun,” the researchers write in their paper.
“Surprisingly we have found such massive black holes already in the early universe, just 800 million years after the Big Bang. How they grew to such mass so early after the Big Bang is a profound puzzle for physics. They must have grown at super rates for a long period of time; or they originate from massive seed black holes that formed during the dark early ages by direct collapse.”