Scientists have identified the fastest growing black hole ever discovered in the modern universe

(ORDO NEWS) — A supermassive black hole that is growing so fast it shines 7,000 times brighter than the entire Milky Way has just been discovered hiding in plain sight.

Every second, an amount of material equivalent to the mass of the Earth falls into this voracious black hole.

As far as we know, this is the fastest growing black hole in the last 9 billion years – its activity is so frenetic that it sends multi-wavelength light blazing throughout the universe, making it what is known as a quasar.

The black hole is called SMSS J114447.77-430859.3 – J1144 for short – and analysis of its properties shows that the light from its power has traveled for about 7 billion years. to reach us, and that its mass is about 2.6 billion times that of the Sun (quite a respectable size for a supermassive black hole).

And there it is, just hanging out, lurking unnoticed for the time being. But because of where it sits – 18 degrees above the galactic plane – previous quasar surveys have just managed to miss it by only passing 20 degrees above the disk of the Milky Way.

“A bit of historical misfortune was our good fortune,” astronomer Christopher Onken of the Australian National University told ScienceAlert.

“Finding distant objects becomes very difficult when you look closely at the disk of the Milky Way – there are so many stars in the foreground that it is very difficult to find rare background sources.

“Another team used an ultraviolet satellite to look for these glowing objects across the sky, but J1144 hit a small gap in their coverage. But the source is bright enough to be visible in photographs of the sky taken as far back as 1901, so this is definitely one of those times when it was hiding in plain sight.”

Scientists have identified the fastest growing black hole ever discovered in the modern universe 2
A gap in the ultraviolet view

Apart from supernova explosions emitting gamma-ray bursts, quasars are the brightest single objects in the universe. They are the result of a supermassive black hole accreting matter at great speed from a huge disk of dust and gas that spirals into the black hole like water down a sewer.

It’s not black. the hole itself, which glows, but this material, heated by strong friction and gravity, emits light in the entire spectrum.

In addition, astronomers believe that some of the material can be guided and accelerated along the magnetic field lines around from the black hole to the poles, from where it is ejected into space in the form of high-speed plasma jets. The interaction of these jets with gas in the surrounding galaxy creates radio waves.

But there is something really strange about J1144. Quasars with the same level of activity can be found, but much earlier in the universe. a history that goes back about 13.8 billion years.

About 9 billion years later, this furious quasar activity seems to have subsided somewhat, making J1144 a charming oddity. The quasar is so bright that someone with a back telescope could get out and look at it with their own eyes.

“This black hole is so unusual that while you should never say never, I don’t ‘I think we’ll find another one like this,'” says ANU astronomer Christian Wolf.

“We are quite confident that this record will not be broken. We’ve practically run out of skies where such objects could hide. .”

But this discovery sparked renewed enthusiasm for finding and compiling a census of bright quasars. The team has already confirmed 80 new quasars, and hundreds more candidates need to be analyzed and confirmed or ruled out.

This means that the astronomical community is close to a complete census of bright quasars in the relatively recent universe.

“None of them are as bright as J1144, but they will help paint a more complete picture of how common this rapid growth phase is and help us understand the underlying physical mechanism,” Onken told ScienceAlert.

“Whether it’s rare collisions between huge galaxies, or something special in the environment around a black hole, or the black hole itself for example, a rapidly spinning black hole can release much more energy from the matter it accretes than that which is generally hardly rotates.

Also, because they are so bright, light from quasars can be analyzed to learn more about the rarefied gas that drifts between galaxies, Onken said.

This could reveal the flow of gas around the Milky Way galaxy itself, giving us a better understanding of three-dimensional movements in the space around us.

The group’s research has been presented in Publications of the Astronomical Society. Australia and available on the arXiv preprint server.

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