Fastest growing black hole observed

A research team from Australia has found a supermassive black hole with a mass 3 billion times that of the Sun. This makes it 500 times larger than the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

The black hole is growing so fast that it is 7,000 times brighter than all the light in the Milky Way combined. And every second, the voracious giant swallows a quantity of matter equivalent to the mass of the Earth.

“The orbits of the planets in our solar system could all lie within the event horizon of the black hole — the black hole’s boundary, from which nothing can escape,” says Samuel Lei, who is part of the team.

A 7 billion long space journey

The researchers think this is the fastest growing black hole of the past 9 billion years. The supermassive black hole was named J1144, and its light has been a long time coming to reach us.

“The light we see from this expanding black hole has been traveling to us for about 7 billion years,” said study leader Christopher Onken.

There are more supermassive black holes of the same size, but they have long since stopped growing. It is therefore unclear why J1144 is so bright.

“Now we want to know why this hole is different. Has something catastrophic happened? Perhaps two large galaxies collided and funneled a lot of material into the black hole,’ Onken suggests.

Black holes are not naturally visible because their gravity is so great that not even light can escape them. They are detectable because dust and gases revolve around them. The gas particles heat up and give off a bright light.

Particularly bright are quasars, the brightest objects in the universe that we know. J1144 is such a quasar.

It was by chance that the scientists stumbled upon J1144. The black hole is in an unfavorable position in the night sky relative to a large foreground cluster of stars, which obscure objects in the background.

“It is quite remarkable that such a bright object has escaped the many searches over the years,” says Onken.

No more hiding places

To spot the supermassive, fast-growing black hole, the SkyMapper Southern Sky Survey, a 1.3m telescope in Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia was used.

J1144 has a visual magnitude of 14.5, which indicates how bright an object is to someone looking at it from Earth. With this visual magnitude, the massive black hole is easy to see from Earth with a good telescope.

Researcher Christian Wolf also thinks that the black hole is an anomaly.

“We’re pretty sure this record won’t be surpassed. There is not a piece of heaven left where objects like this can hide.’

The research team has already spotted 80 new quasars for further study, but none are as bright as J1144. By examining J1144 and the other quasars, we can learn more about the thin gas between galaxies and the flow of gas around the Milky Way.

The research report has not yet been peer-reviewed, but has been submitted for review to the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.

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