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Astronomers have detected the brightest and fastest-growing black hole to have existed in the last 9 billion years. The enormous cosmic entity is 3 billion times more massive than the sun and swallows up an Earth-size chunk of matter every second.
The new supermassive black hole, known as J1144, is around 500 times as Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way, which was recently photographed for the first time. A ring of superhot plasma around the enormous void also emits around 7,000 times more light than our entire galaxy.
Australian astronomers discovered the cosmic juggernaut using data from Australian National University’s SkyMapper Southern Sky Survey, which aims to map out the entirety of the sky in the Southern Hemisphere. Locating the supermassive black hole was like finding a “very large, unexpected needle in the haystack,” the researchers said in a statement (opens in new tab).
“Astronomers have been hunting for objects like this for more than 50 years,” lead researcher Christopher Onken, an astronomer at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, said in the statement. “They have found thousands of fainter ones, but this astonishingly bright one had slipped through unnoticed.”
The black hole’s voracious appetite dwarfs that of other similarly huge supermassive black holes. Normally, the growth rates of these enormous cosmic entities slow down as they become more massive, according to the statement. This is likely due to increased Hawking radiation — thermal radiation that is theorized to be released from black holes due to the effects of quantum mechanics.
The newfound black hole eats up so much matter that its event horizon — the boundary past which nothing, including light, can escape — is unusually wide. “The orbits of the planets in our solar system would all fit inside its event horizon,” co-author Samuel Lai, an ANU astronomer, said in the statement.
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Black holes cannot be seen because they do not give off any light. But astronomers can spot black holes because their intense gravity pulls matter towards the event horizon so quickly that this matter gets turned into super hot plasma; this gives off light in a ring around the black hole, called an accretion disk. The newly discovered behemoth’s accretion disk is the brightest that astronomers have ever detected, due to its massive event horizon and the extreme speed at which it pulls in matter. Researchers are “fairly confident” that this is a record that will never be broken, according to the statement.
The black hole boundary is so bright that even amateur astronomers would be able to see it with a powerful enough telescope trained 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 hungry for matter. The…