Astronomers in Australia have discovered the fastest-growing black hole ever found.
The monster object gobbles up a mass equivalent to our sun every other day – and, if it sat at the heart of our own galaxy, researchers say it would wipe out any chance of life on Earth.
Researchers spotted the incredible supermassive black hole using the SkyMapper telescope at the ANU Siding Spring Observatory, peeing more than 12 billion years into the universe’s past.
Astronomers in Australia have discovered the fastest-growing black hole ever found. The monster object gobbles up a mass equivalent to our sun every other day. The researchers observed the black hole when it was estimated to be the size of about 20 billion suns
‘The 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 Dr Wolf, from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
‘If we had this monster sitting at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, it would appear 10 times brighter than a full moon.
‘It would appear as an incredible bright pin-point star that would almost wash out all of the stars in the sky.’
The researchers observed the black hole when it was estimated to be the size of about 20 billion suns.
At the time, its growth rate was about one percent every one million years.
Using the SkyMapper telescope, the spotted ultraviolet light and X-rays emanating from the system.
‘Again, if this monster was at the center of the Milky Way it would likely make life on Earth impossible with the huge amounts of X-rays emanating from it,’ Wolf said.
The researchers spotted light from the object in the near-infrared.
Over billions of light years, the waves of light experienced a red shift.
WHAT ARE BLACK HOLES?
Black holes are so dense and their gravitational pull is so strong that no form of radiation can escape them – not even light.
They act as intense sources of gravity which hoover up dust and gas around them.
Their intense gravitational pull is thought to be what stars in galaxies orbit around.
How they are formed is still poorly understood.
Supermassive black holes are incredibly dense areas in the centre of galaxies with masses that can be billions of times that of the sun. They cause dips in space-time (artist’s impression) and even light cannot escape their gravitational pull
Astronomers believe they may form when a large cloud of gas up to 100,000 times bigger than the sun, collapses into a black hole.
Many of these black hole seeds then merge to form much larger supermassive black holes, which are found at the centre of every known massive galaxy.
Alternatively, a supermassive black hole seed could come from a giant star, about 100 times the sun’s mass, that ultimately forms into a black hole after it runs out of fuel and collapses.
When these giant stars die, they also go ‘supernova’, a huge explosion that expels the matter from the outer layers of the star into deep space.
The researchers followed up their detection with data from the Gaia satellite, and confirmed it as a supermassive black hole using the spectrograph on the ANU 2.3 meter telescope.
‘As the universe expands, space expands and that stretches the light waves and changes their colour,’ Wolf said.
‘These large and rapidly-growing black holes are exceedingly rare, and we have been searching for them with SkyMapper for several months now.
‘The European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite, which measures tiny motions of celestial objects, helped us find this supermassive black hole.’
If it sat at the heart of our own galaxy, researchers say the supermassive black hole would wipe out any chance of life on Earth. Artist’s impression pictured
‘We don’t know how this one grew so large, so quickly in the early days of the universe,’ Dr Wolf added.
‘The hunt is on to find even faster-growing black holes.’
The discovery could be used to help improve our understanding of the objects that formed in the early years of the universe, serving as a ‘beacon’ into the past.
‘Scientists can see the shadows of objects in front of the supermassive black hole,’ Wolf said.
‘Fast-growing supermassive black holes also help to clear the fog around them by ionizing gases, which makes the universe more transparent.’