Hungry for black holes among the most massive in the universe

Hungry for black holes among the most massive in the universe

Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

We now know how massive the fastest growing black hole in the Universe really is, as well as how much it eats, thanks to new research led by the Australian National University (ANU).

According to Dr. Christopher Onken and his colleagues, it is 34 billion times the mass of our sun and gorges in almost the equivalent of one sun every day.

“The mass of the black hole is also approximately 8,000 times larger than the black hole at the center of the Milky Way,” said Dr. Onken.

“If the Milky Way’s black hole wanted to get fat, it would have to swallow two-thirds of all the stars in our galaxy.”

This giant black hole, known as J2157, was discovered by the same research team in 2018.

“We are looking at it at a time when the universe was only 1.2 billion years old, less than 10 percent of its current age,” said Dr. Onken.

“It is the largest black hole that has been weighed in this early period of the Universe.”

Exactly how black holes got so large so early in the Universe’s life remains a mystery, but the team is now looking for more black holes in hopes that they may provide some clues.

“We knew we were in a very massive black hole when we realized its rapid growth rate,” said team member Dr. Fuyan Bian, an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

“The number of black holes they can swallow depends on how much mass they already have.

“So for this one to be devouring matter at such a high rate, we thought it could become a new record holder. And now we know.”

The team, which includes researchers from the University of Arizona, used ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile to accurately measure the mass of the black hole.

“With such a huge black hole, we are also excited to see what we can learn about the galaxy it is growing in,” said Dr. Onken.

“Is this galaxy one of the giants of the early Universe, or did the black hole swallow an extraordinary amount from its surroundings? We will have to keep digging to find out.”

The research is published in Monthly notices from the Royal Astronomical Society.

Scientists shed light on the growth of black holes

More information:
Christopher A Onken et al. A thirty-four billion solar mass black hole in SMSS J2157-3602, the brightest quasar known, Monthly notices from the Royal Astronomical Society (2020). DOI: 10.1093 / mnras / staa1635

Provided by the Australian National University

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