Astronomy Rapidly growing black hole discovered
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They are one of the greatest mysteries of the universe: Black holes. The mysterious cosmic objects are so dense that not even light can escape them. Australian researchers have now discovered the largest mass monster in the universe to date.
Sydney/Stuttgart – Every two days, it gobbles up about the mass of our sun: Australian researchers have discovered the fastest-growing black hole in the universe so far. This so-called supermassive black hole is more than twelve billion light-years from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, and is equivalent to almost ten trillion kilometers. The Sun’s nearest neighbor star in our galaxy is about four light-years away.
The black hole possessed At the time of observation, an estimated mass of 20 billion suns, as explained by Christian Wolf of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics of the Australian National University in Canberra. Every million years it expands by one percent. "This black hole is growing so fast that it shines thousands of times brighter than an entire galaxy because of all the gases it sucks in every day, which cause a lot of friction and heat" said Wolf.
Superbright and supermassive
Such large and fast growing black holes are extremely rare. The black hole was discovered by the European astronomy satellite "Gaia" when it measured minute movements of celestial bodies. The discovery was confirmed by the Australian university by observations with a telescope.
"If this monster were sitting in the center of our Milky Way, it would be about ten times brighter to us than the full moon," Wolf explained. "It would appear as an incredibly bright star the size of a pin, outshining nearly all the stars in the sky."
The high amount of emitted X-rays would probably make life on Earth impossible. Since supermassive black holes glow, they can be used to study the formation of elements in the early galaxies of our universe.
Largest particle accelerator in space
Only in April researchers of the Max-Planck-Institut for radio astronomy in Bonn had succeeded in the most detailed observations of a matter spewing black hole so far. The study offers a unique insight into the formation of so-called jets, with which gigantic black holes hurl back into space some of the matter that has been caught in their vortex, the institute said.
Jets are the largest particle accelerators in the universe. These are clustered outflows of matter from cosmic objects such as black holes.
Places of extremes
Black holes are places of cosmic extremes. Matter is so tightly compressed inside them that nothing can escape their enormously high gravitational pull. The escape velocity inside a black hole is above the speed of light, so not even the light itself penetrates to the outside. So black holes are quasi invisible – as their name suggests.
How can black holes be observed then? Although they are invisible themselves, they reveal themselves through the matter they swallow. Because of the extremely strong gravitational acceleration, matter falling into a black hole heats up to millions of degrees Celsius and then shines brightly in X-ray light. X-ray telescopes can register this characteristic glow.