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A newly discovered supermassive black hole is breaking records

A newly discovered supermassive black hole is breaking records

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This artist's image shows the record-breaking quasar J059-4351, the bright center of a distant galaxy powered by a supermassive black hole. © European Southern Observatory/M. Grain knife

The fastest growing black hole in the universe is also the brightest object. Despite his superlatives, he remained unknown for a long time.

Cerro Paranal – The universe is a place of extremes and black holes are no exception. A team of researchers has now tracked down an object that sets several records at once. Although this celestial body cannot be overlooked due to its many properties, it has only now been discovered.

But from the beginning: Researchers, led by astronomer Christian Wolff of the Australian National University, took a closer look at quasar J0529-4351 and made a startling discovery: the object with the unwieldy name is not only the brightest quasar star known to date. , but it is also the brightest celestial object yet observed.

The giant black hole powers the giant quasar

a A quasar is an active nucleus A galaxy powered by a supermassive black hole. The black hole powering quasar J0529-4351 sets new records. “We have discovered the fastest growing black hole known to date,” said Wolf, the study's lead author. In the specialized magazine Nature astronomy published had become. To clarify the dimensions of the celestial body, he adds: “Its mass is 17 billion solar masses and it consumes a little more than one solar mass per day. “This makes it the most luminous object in the known universe.”

What is a quasar and what is a supermassive black hole?

a Quasar It is the active and bright core of the galaxy. In visible light it looks like a star (like a point). At other wavelengths it emits very large amounts of energy. The term quasar is derived from the English word “quasar-like radio source” – in German: “star-like radio source”.

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Supermassive black holes It is located at the center of most galaxies. They power quasars. A black hole is a celestial body whose mass is concentrated in a very small volume. As a result, the object has such a strong gravity that even light cannot leave it. The outer boundary of a black hole is called the event horizon. The matter orbits around a black hole, called an accretion disk. It is their emission of radiation that is seen as a luminous quasar.

The quasar is so far from Earth that its light takes more than twelve billion years to reach us. It shines 500 trillion times brighter than the Sun. But these impressive numbers have been exceeded: “All this light comes from a hot accretion disk seven light-years in diameter – this must be the largest accretion disk in the universe,” adds Samuel Lai, another author of the study. For comparison, seven light years is 15,000 times the distance between the Sun and the farthest planet, Neptune.

The region of sky where the record-breaking quasar J0529-4351 is located.  The image was created from images from Digitized Sky Survey 2, and the inset shows the location of the quasar in an image from the Dark Energy Survey.
The region of sky where the record-breaking quasar J0529-4351 is located. The image was created from images from Digitized Sky Survey 2, and the inset shows the location of the quasar in an image from the Dark Energy Survey. © ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Dark Energy Survey

The brightest quasar 'has literally stared us in the face so far'

Despite these impressive numbers, the quasar remained undiscovered for a long time. “It's strange that it has remained unknown to this day when we already know about millions of less impressive quasars. It has literally been staring us in the face until now,” Christopher Onken, another co-author, says in amazement in one of the articles. notice.

However, there is a reason for the delay in quasar discovery, which lies in the technology applied: to distinguish quasars from other celestial objects in large data sets, machine learning-based models are often used. Because these models are trained using existing data, it is possible for any celestial body that falls outside the grid to be classified as a nearby star.

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Supermassive black holes provide clues to the early days of the universe

This is exactly what happened with J0529-4351. Although the object can already be seen in images taken in 1980, it has only now been successfully classified as a quasar. Ultimately, the X-Shooter spectrometer on the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Cerro Paranal, Chile, provided the crucial data and showed how intense the quasar was.

Supermassive, long-distance black holes are of great interest to researchers because they contain secrets dating back to the early days of the universe. But that's not the only reason astronomer Wolff searches for them, as he admits: “I personally love hunting. For a few minutes a day I feel like a kid playing a treasure hunt again, but this time I carry with me everything I've learned since then.” (unpaid bill)

The editor wrote this article and then used an AI language model to improve at her own discretion. All information has been carefully checked. Find out more about our AI principles here.