Astronomers discover fastest-growing black hole ever

Scientists discover massive black hole— and it’s getting bigger

Australian scientists have discovered a black hole which is growing faster than all the black holes known today. The supermassive object is estimated to be more than 12 billion years old, have a mass greater than 20 billion suns and could be growing at a rate of about 1 percent every 1 million years.

Dr Wolf and his team have spent six months searching for "exceedingly rare" large and rapidly-growing black holes using the state-of-the-art SkyMapper telescope.

It's so massive that if it was occupying Sagittarius A*'s location in the galaxy's center, it would appear ten-times brighter than a full moon to the naked eye.

The energy emitted from the newly discovered black hole was mostly ultraviolet, but it also radiated massive amounts of x-rays that would prevent life on Earth from surviving.

Discovered a supermassive black hole at the centre of a quasar called J2157-3602. 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.

Wolf explains how they found the bright black hole.

The next step for researchers is to learn how it grew so large during the beginnings of our universe, and to find other fast-growing black holes like it.

"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 says.

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The black hole was spotted by the SkyMapper telescope at the ANU Siding Spring Observatory in near infrared light with help from the European Space Agency's Gaia satellite. Luckily for Earth, it is located about 12 billion light years away, unlikely to ever come near the planet or even the Milky Way galaxy.

To follow this black hole's evolution, ANU had to go far back in cosmological history to when the universe was about 2 billion years old.

Such black holes can be used as "beacons" to measure the expansion of the universe, and the early formation of the elements in the most ancient galaxies, said the scientists.

"As the Universe expands, space expands and that stretches the light waves and changes their color", Dr Wolf said.

That said, they think improving technology and advanced ground-based telescopes coming over the next decade should be able to leverage black holes like these to understand how our universe has been growing.

READ NEXT: Beyond the Big Bang: What would it have been like to witness the birth of the universe?

The results appear in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia (arXiv.org preprint).

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