File photo: Australian researchers have discovered the fastest-growing black hole known in the universe which is swallowing up the surrounding cosmos. (Credit: REUTERS/The SXS (Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes)/Handout via Reuters)
Australian researchers have discovered the fastest-growing black hole known in the universe which is swallowing up the surrounding cosmos.
The astronomers from the Australian National University (ANU) described 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 ANU said in a statement.
According to Dr Christian Wolf from the ANU’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, as its lurks in deep space the mega black hole emits huge amounts of energy which is mostly ultraviolet light but also radiated X-rays.
“This black hole is growing so rapidly that it’s 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,” she said.
“If we had this monster sitting at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, it would appear 10 times brighter than a full moon. It would appear as an incredibly bright pinpoint star that would almost wash out all of the stars in the sky.”
The news has gone around the world with New York Times columnist and science writer Carl Zimmer tweeting the ANU press release, joking that Earth’s sun doesn’t stand a chance against the swallowing black mass.
“Astronomers find a hungry black hole that could gobble up our sun in two days,” he warned his followers. Then adding the caveat: “(It’s billions of light years away, so don’t cancel your weekend plans.)”
Such large and rapidly growing black holes are extremely rare, with the latest spotted by the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite as it measured tiny motions of celestial objects.
The discovery of the new supermassive black hole was confirmed using the spectrograph on the ANU’s 2.3m SkyMapper telescope to split colours into spectral lines.
“These large and rapidly-growing black holes 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,” Dr Wolf said.
“As supermassive black holes shine, they can be used as beacons to see and study the formation of elements in the early galaxies of the universe,” he added.
The research is set to be published in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.
This story originally appeared in news.com.au.