Astronomers have discovered a gigantic black hole, three billion times more massive than our sun. It devours one Earth-sized planet every second, and the rapid accretion of matter has also resulted in the formation of a quasar. This quasar emits enough energy to make it 7,000 times brighter than all the stars in the Milky Way combined.
An international team led by astronomers at The Australian National University (ANU) has discovered the fastest-growing black hole in the last nine billion years. Black holes feed on matter by siphoning it from thin disks of gas and dust that rotate around them. Their process is called accretion.
According to researchers, every second the black hole consumes one Earth-sized planet. The rapid accretion of matter has also resulted in the formation of a quasar. This quasar emits enough energy to make it 7,000 times brighter than all the stars in the Milky Way combined. Interestingly, this object, SMSS J114447.77- 430859.3, is the brightest of the events that have occurred in the universe for roughly the past two-thirds of its 13.8 billion-year existence.
In the words of the lead researcher and his co-authors, “it is a very large, unexpected needle in a haystack”.
“Astronomers have been hunting for objects like this for more than 50 years. They have found thousands of fainter ones, but this astonishingly bright one had slipped through unnoticed,” Dr. Onken said.
The black hole is as massive as three billion suns. Billions of years ago, comparable-sized Black Holes stopped expanding so rapidly.
“Now we want to know why this one is different – did something catastrophic happen? Perhaps two big galaxies crashed into each other, funnelling an enormous amount of material onto the black hole to feed it,” Dr. Onken said.
Co-author Associate Professor Christian Wolf said: “This black hole is such an outlier that while you should never say never, I don’t believe we will find another one like this.
“We are fairly confident this record will not be broken. We have essentially run out of sky where objects like this could be hiding. It is 500 times more massive than the black hole in our own Galaxy,” co-author and ANU Ph.D. researcher Samuel Lai said.
Skywatchers with high-quality telescopes in a dark area might be able to spot the quasar, which has a magnitude of 14.5 when viewed from Earth. It is slightly brighter than the dwarf planet Pluto.
Given its size, the Black Hole would fit the orbits of the planets of our solar system behind its event horizon, the boundary of a black hole beyond which nothing, not even light can escape.
Researchers do not expect to find another black hole growing at the same rate or powering a quasar of this magnitude or greater in the near future.
According to an unrelated study of our cosmos, there are around 40 billion billions black holes in the observable universe. According to some theories, black holes are remnants of other universes. Other research suggests that these cosmic monsters might act as tunnels in space, enabling us to reach unimaginable distances. We will have to wait and see how these theories pan out.
The discovery was made as part of the SkyMapper project.
The research has been published on the pre-print server arXiv and submitted to Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.
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