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Astronomers have detected the brightest and fastest growing black hole to exist in the past 9 billion years. The huge cosmic entity is 3 billion times more massive than the Sun and swallow a Earth– large piece of material every second.
The new supermassive black hole, known as J1144, is about 500 times larger than Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the heart of the planet. Milky Waywho was recently photographed for the first time. A ring of super hot plasma around the huge void also emits around 7,000 times more light than our entire galaxy.
Australian astronomers discovered the cosmic juggernaut using data from the Australian National University’s SkyMapper Southern Sky Survey, which aims to map the entire sky in the Southern Hemisphere. Locating the supermassive black hole was like finding an “unexpectedly very large needle in the haystack”, the researchers said in a press release (opens in a new tab).
“Astronomers have been searching for objects like this for over 50 years,” lead researcher Christopher Onken, an astronomer at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, said in the statement. “They found thousands of weaker ones, but this surprisingly bright one went unnoticed.”
Related: Ultra-rare black hole ancestor detected at dawn of universe
The black hole’s voracious appetite dwarfs that of other equally huge supermassive black holes. Normally, the growth rates of these huge cosmic entities slow as they become more massive, according to the release. This is likely due to increased Hawking radiation – the thermal radiation that is theorized to be released from black holes due to the effects of Quantum mechanics.
The new black hole is devouring so much matter that its event horizon – the boundary beyond which nothing, including light, can escape – is unusually wide. “The orbits of the planets in our solar system would all fit within its event horizon,” co-author Samuel Lai, an ANU astronomer, said in the statement.
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Black holes are not visible because they emit no light. But astronomers can spot black holes because their intense gravity pulls matter towards the event horizon so rapidly that this matter turns into super hot plasma; this emits light in a ring around the black hole, called the accretion disk. The newly discovered behemoth accretion disk is the brightest astronomers have ever detected, due to its massive event horizon and the extreme speed at which it pulls in material. The researchers are “fairly confident” that this is a record that will never be broken, according to the statement.
The black hole’s boundary is so bright that even amateur astronomers could see it with a powerful enough telescope aimed at exactly the right part of the sky, the researchers said.
The team is now trying to determine why the massive black hole remains so unusually greedy for matter. Scientists suspect that a catastrophic cosmic event must be responsible for the birth of this gargantuan void. “Maybe two large galaxies crashed into each other, funneling a lot of matter into the black hole to feed it,” Onken said.
However, it can be difficult to know exactly how it formed. Researchers are skeptical that another such massive and rapidly expanding black hole will ever be found, making it difficult to test a general theory about the formation of such voracious cosmic objects.
“This black hole is so outlier that while never say never, I don’t believe we’ll find another like this,” said co-author Christian Wolf, ANU astronomer and chief SkyMapper group, in the press release. “We basically ran out of skies where objects like this could hide.”
However, some researchers predict that there are up to 40 quintillion black holes in the universewhich could be about 1% of all matter in the universe, so the odds of yet another even more devastating black hole out there aren’t zero.
The study was submitted on June 8 to the preprint database arXiv but has not yet been peer reviewed. If accepted, it will be published in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.
Originally posted on Live Science.