This black hole is growing so rapidly that it’s as luminous as 700 trillion suns, 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. How this drainpipe into eternity grew to such mass so early after the Big Bang is a profound puzzle for physics.
“If this monster was at the center of the Milky Way it would likely make life on Earth impossible with the huge amounts of x-rays emanating from it,” said Christian Wolf, with the Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics who made the momentous detection. ”It would appear 10 times brighter than a full moon, an incredibly bright pin-point star that would almost wash out all of the stars in the sky. It’s probably 10,000 times brighter than the galaxy it lives in.” So bright, that it is blinding our view and we can’t see the galaxy itself.
This newly observed object is known officially as SMSS J215728.21-360215.1 In May of 2018 , astronomers at ANU found this 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.
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 light waves and changes their color,” Dr Wolf said.
How it got so big so quickly after the Big Bang adds to a mystery about the origin of the supermassive black holes — often weighing in at more than a billion suns — that occupy the centers of galaxies, observes Dennis Overbye in the New York Times. What came first? he asks. The black holes or the galaxies?
Profound Puzzle for Physics
“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.”
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 meter 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,” Wolf said. “The hunt is on to find even faster-growing black holes.”
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 supermassive black holes also help to clear the fog around them by ionizing gases, which makes the Universe more transparent.”
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.