Scientists have discovered the fastest-growing black hole ever found, and boy oh boy is it one hungry little beast. It’s so ravenous that if it existed in our Milky Way, we wouldn’t be here to write, read blogs, or watch cat videos on repeat.
Using the SkyMapper telescope at Australian National University’s (ANU) Siding Spring Observatory, astronomers spotted near-infrared light coming from something absolutely massive. The quasar, dubbed SMSS~J215728.21-360215.1, is located about 12 billion light-years away. Astronomers were able to get a glimpse at this “monster” black hole when it was kickin’ around 12 billion years ago, in the early days of the solar system. The team’s findings are set to be published in Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia (PASA).
Researchers aren’t sure how the black hole got so large so fast, but it might have something to do with the fact that it can apparently eat the mass of our sun every two days. That could fuel one hell of a growth spurt.
“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,” the study’s lead author Christian Wolf, a researcher from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, says in a statement.
Quasars, including SMSS~J215728.21-360215.1, don’t fit our typical understanding of a black hole. Their nickname — “Quasi-stellar object” or “QSO” for short — refers to how star-like in appearance they are. QSOs are extremely bright, extremely distant weirdos that this particular team of astronomers hope to find even more of using some yet-to-be-built ground-based telescopes.
“The hunt is on to find even faster-growing black holes,” Wolf says.
Black hole hunting is a worthwhile endeavor, as these hungry hole are some of the most mysterious — and metal — objects in the universe.
“A black hole is what happens if you put a whole lot of matter into a very small space,” astrophysicist Katie Mack tells Inverse on episode six of the I Need My Space podcast. “Basically what happens is you put so much matter into a very small space it has such strong gravity that if you get close to it, you’ll never get away from it again, and that includes light.”
We hope astronomers continue to find many more of these voracious eaters.