Published: Tue, May 15, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

SkyMapper Telescope Detects Fastest Growing Black Hole In The Universe

SkyMapper Telescope Detects Fastest Growing Black Hole In The Universe

"It would appear 10 times brighter than a full moon and nearly wash out all of the stars in the sky".

Astronomers have detected the fastest growing black hole ever known in the universe that is capable of engulfing matter equivalent to the size of the sun every two days. It is not known, however, how a black hole could grow so large, so early in the universe, and the ANU team is already on the hunt for other, faster-growing quasars to learn more.

The supermassive black hole is so powerful, that if it were at the centre of the Milky Way, all life on earth would be impossible.

In this case, the researchers discovered the black hole which, according to their estimates, was as big as 20 billion suns and growing by a percent every one million years. This also helped with its detection as light waves from the black hole red-shifted during their long journey to Earth, allowing the astronomers to use ANU's SkyMapper telescope to detect them in near-infrared.

"These large and rapidly-growing black holes are exceedingly rare, and we have been searching for them with SkyMapper for several months now", Wolf said. Looking through data from Europe's Gaia satellite, the researchers uncovered a supermassive black hole that's expanding at dizzying speeds, swallowing up the surrounding cosmos.

"That one has a mass of 5 million solar masses - that is 40,000 times less mass than the one that we have now found", Dr Wolf explained. Wolf said that with the expansion of the Universe, space gets expanded, which stretches the waves of light and transforms their color.

This black hole in the latest discussion has been spotted by the Gaia satellite of the European Space Agency, which calculated the small motions of the celestial bodies.

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The study was published May 11 in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia. The identification was confirmed by spectral analysis using the ANU 2.3 metre telescope.

Astronomers are stumped by its enormous size and can't quite tell how the supermassive black hole grew that much so rapidly at a time when the universe was still so young. Wolf further added that it would have appeared as an unbelievably bright "pin-point star", which could wash out almost every star present in the celestial sphere.

"There's a big mystery about how these supermassive black holes form, because we don't understand how something could get that big that quickly; our normal theories don't work", she says.

At the same time, the rare quasar could shed more light - quite literally, as it shines bright enough to make nearby objects visible, notes ANU - into how elements are formed in the universe's oldest galaxies.

"In the past, people perhaps went for black holes that were easier to identify because they looked a bit different", Dr Wolf said.

"And it might mean that there were seeds to these black holes in the very early universe".

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