Astronomers find fastest-growing black hole known in space

Astronomers find fastest-growing black hole known in space
A bright, supermassive black hole. Credit: NASA

Astronomers at ANU have found the fastest-growing black hole
known in the Universe, describing it as a monster that
devours a mass equivalent to our sun every two days.


The astronomers have looked back more than 12 billion years to
the early dark ages of the Universe, when this supermassive
black hole was estimated to be the size of about 20 billion
suns with a one per cent growth rate every one million years.

“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 Dr Wolf from the ANU Research School of
Astronomy and Astrophysics.

“If we had this monster sitting at the centre of our Milky Way
galaxy, it would appear 10 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.”

Dr Wolf said the energy emitted from this newly discovered
supermassive black hole, also known as a quasar, was mostly
ultraviolet light but also radiated x-rays.

“Again, if this monster was at the centre of the Milky Way it
would likely make life on Earth impossible with the huge
amounts of x-rays emanating from it,” he said.

The SkyMapper telescope at the ANU Siding Spring Observatory
detected this light in the near-infrared, as the light waves
had red-shifted over the billions of light years to Earth.

“As the Universe expands, space expands and that stretches the
waves and changes their colour,” Dr Wolf
said.

“These large and rapidly-growing blackholes 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.”

Dr Wolf said the Gaia satellite confirmed the object that they
had found was sitting still, meaning that it was far away and
it was a candidate to be a very large quasar.

The discovery of the new supermassive black hole was confirmed
using the spectrograph on the ANU 2.3 metre telescope to split
colours into spectral lines.

“We don’t know how this one grew so large, so quickly in the
early days of the Universe,” Dr Wolf
said.     

“The hunt is on to find even faster-growing .”

Dr Wolf said as these kinds of black holes shine, they can be
used as beacons to see and study the formation of elements in
the early galaxies of the Universe.

“Scientists can see the shadows of objects in front of the
supermassive black hole,” he said.

“Fast-growing also help to clear
the fog around them by ionising gases, which makes the Universe
more transparent.”

Dr Wolf said instruments on very large ground-based telescopes
being built over the next decade would be able to directly
measure the expansion of the Universe using these very bright
black holes.    

Explore further:

Image: Computer simulation of a supermassive black hole

More information: Discovery of the most ultra-luminous
QSO using Gaia, SkyMapper and WISE. arXiv:1805.04317
[astro-ph.GA] arxiv.org/abs/1805.04317

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