Key takeaways

  • Astronomers found a supermassive black hole that grows by consuming a mass the size of the sun every two days.
  • This black hole, also known as a quasar, is the brightest seen in optical and ultraviolet light.
  • The rapid growth of this black hole questions current understanding of black hole expansion limits.
  • The black hole is currently the size of 20 billion suns and began growing shortly after the Big Bang.
  • This discovery suggests there may be more massive black holes out there, prompting further investigation into the early universe.

Astronomers have discovered the universe’s fastest-growing black hole, dubbed a “monster with an appetite.” It is expanding so quickly that it can consume a mass the size of the sun every two days.

Researchers at Australian National University found this supermassive black hole, commonly known as a quasar, after data from the SkyMapper telescope identified it as a possible object of interest. They then utilized data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite to calculate how distant it was. They discovered that it takes about 12 billion years for light from this huge black hole to reach Earth. It is the brightest quasar seen in either optical or ultraviolet light.

“The heat radiation from the matter falling into the black hole, which is the light we see, is a few thousand times brighter than our own Milky Way galaxy,” Christian Wolf, the main researcher on the university’s astronomy team, told CNN in an email.

It calls existing science into question

The finding of this huge black hole brings the current understanding of black holes into doubt. Black holes have a speed restriction that affects how quickly they expand and is related to their mass.

Currently, this gigantic black hole is the size of at least 20 billion suns. Using the speed limit formula, Wolf calculated that this black hole began at the size of 5,000 suns about 1.2 billion years after the Big Bang. The average black hole is around the size of fifty suns. Scientists are confused as to how this big black hole became so massive.

“So, either black holes can grow faster than the speed limit, but we don’t know how that works, and we have not seen it yet in action, or there is an unknown way to make 5,000 solar mass black holes very close in time to the Big Bang,” Wolf told the crowd. “But who knows what happened in the dark early ages of the universe?”

According to Wolf, the discovery might provide greater insight into the Big Bang.

The hunt is on to learn more

“Perhaps this is already telling us something about rather unusual processes close to or related to the Big Bang,” the scientist suggested. “What happened there that is not yet part of the standard picture?”

Wolf believes there are more of these huge black holes in the cosmos. In fact, this discovery demonstrates that scientists had previously disregarded brilliant and distant quasars that are hidden in plain sight. However, as they learn more, they appear to encounter more questions.

“The hunt is on,” Wolf added. “We want to get a complete picture of the demographics of fast-growing supermassive black holes in the universe, and see just how big is the problem which we have to solve.”

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