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Meet the fastest-growing black hole

17 May 2018

Australian National University (ANU) astronomers have looked back more than 12 billion years to the early dark ages of the universe to find this fastest-growing black hole.

New York Times columnist and science writer Carl Zimmer tweeted in response to the ANU press release stating: "Astronomers find a hungry black hole that could gobble up our sun in two days".

If this behemoth was in the center of the Milky Way it would have been the only object visible at night, washing out all other stars and planets in its light, says Wolf.

The very big hole, codenamed QSO SMSS J215728.21-360215.1, is the staggering size of about 20 billion suns, and grows at a rate of 200 million suns over a million years.

Initially the SkyMapper telescope at the ANU Siding Spring Observatory discovered light from the black hole in the "near-infrared".

"We estimate that this black hole has a mass of at least 20 billion times the mass of the Sun".

Dr Wolf said, 'These large and rapidly-growing black holes are exceedingly rare, and we have been searching for them with SkyMapper for several months now.

Not that you'd know, because the x-rays emanating from it would make life on Earth impossible. It measures tiny movements in deep-space celestial objects and was able to determine that the object discovered by the team at ANU was sitting still and is likely to be a supermassive black hole.

Black holes have a speed limit that determines how fast they grow, which is proportional to their mass. "It would appear as an incredibly bright pin-point star that would nearly wash out all of the stars in the sky", said Wolf.

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But don't panic - Dr Wolf says it won't suck us in.

While unnamed, Wolf refers to the black hole as a "monster".

The gasses falling into the black hole experience high amounts of energy and glow brightly around the event horizon.

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.

Dubbed J215728.21-360215.1, the supermassive black hole was recently noticed by the before-mentioned Dr. Wolf and his colleagues.

A black hole is an object with such overwhelmingly powerful gravity that not even particles of light can escape. Wolf said that the reason is that the large amount of gases it takes in every day causes much heat and friction.

Black holes are some of the most mysterious regions in space.

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

Meet the fastest-growing black hole