Key Takeaways:

  1. A team of astronomers from the Australian National University has identified the fastest-growing black hole known as J2157, with a mass of approximately 34 billion times that of the Sun.
  2. Discovered in 2018, J2157 is the brightest quasar observed, ruling out the possibility of its luminosity being a result of gravitational lensing, and is located 12.5 billion light-years away from Earth.
  3. The researchers used data from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope to determine the distance and mass of J2157, highlighting its exceptional characteristics and making it the largest quasar observed to date.
  4. J2157’s existence challenges our understanding of the early universe, being observed only 1.2 billion years after the Big Bang, providing valuable insights into the rapid growth of supermassive black holes during that period.
  5. The discovery opens avenues for further exploration, as astronomers seek more examples of supermassive black holes in the early universe to understand their impact on galaxy evolution and the cosmos as a whole.

In the 1960s, astronomers began postulating the existence of supermassive black holes (SMBHs) in the universe, capable of powering the cores of active galaxies or quasars.

By the 1990s, the presence of SMBHs at the centers of large galaxies became widely accepted, and astronomers began their quest to identify the largest SMBHs. Recently, a team led by Dr. Christopher A. Onken from the Australian National University discovered the most formidable contender yet, a supermassive black hole named J2157, boasting a mass approximately 34 billion times that of the Sun. This makes J2157 the fastest-growing black hole and the largest quasar ever observed.

The discovery, detailed in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, utilized data from various sources, including the Gaia observatory, WISE space telescope, and the SkyMapper Southern Sky Survey.

The team, consisting of researchers from ANU, the European Southern Observatory, and Steward Observatory, employed the ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile to pinpoint J2157’s distance and mass. Surprisingly, J2157’s mass is around 8,000 times greater than the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, signifying its exceptional nature.

The brightness of J2157, visible from 12.5 billion light-years away, initially raised the possibility of gravitational lensing. However, the team ruled out this phenomenon, emphasizing that J2157 is genuinely the brightest quasar observed in the known universe.

Dr. Onken highlighted the unexpected findings, stating, “It’s the biggest black hole that’s been weighed in this early period of the Universe.” The observation of such a massive black hole merely 1.2 billion years after the Big Bang challenges existing models of black hole formation and growth.

The team had previously suspected that J2157 was actively consuming stars in its galaxy’s central region. The confirmation of it being the fastest-growing SMBH in the universe at such an early cosmic epoch was astonishing.

Dr. Fuyan Bian from the European Southern Observatory expressed the excitement surrounding the discovery, emphasizing the potential for gaining insights into the early universe and its subsequent evolution.

Beyond its sheer size, J2157 presents an opportunity for astronomers to unravel the mysteries surrounding SMBHs’ influence on galaxy evolution and the cosmos during the early universe.

Dr. Bian underlined the importance of studying the galaxy in which J2157 resides, questioning whether it was a colossal entity in the early universe or if the black hole consumed an extraordinary amount of its surroundings. The ongoing quest for additional early-universe black holes aims to shed light on these intriguing questions.

The discovery of J2157 contributes to the broader advancements in astronomy and astrophysics, enabled by technological progress allowing scientists to peer deeper into the cosmos and farther back in time. With the promise of next-generation telescopes, artificial intelligence, and enhanced data-sharing, researchers anticipate addressing longstanding cosmological questions in the years to come.

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