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A monster black hole is powering the brightest known object in the universe

Astronomers have discovered a quasar 12 billion light years away hosting a SMBH (supermassive black hole) that gobbles up mass more than the mass of our sun every day

A quasar 500 trillion times brighter than our sun has grabbed the tag of the brightest known object in the universe. It seems to be powered by a SMBH that is consuming a sun-sized amount of mass every day.

What are quasars?

Quasars are galactic cores where dust and gas sinking into a SMBH release energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation. Christian Wolf of the Australian National University, Canberra and his colleagues spotted the new brightest quasar called J0529-4351 for the first time in 2022 by scouring through data from the Gaia space telescope and hunting for extremely bright objects outside the Milky Way that were misidentified as stars.

Follow up observations from the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile helped too

After studying follow up observations from the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, they have now concluded that J0529-4351 is the most luminous object in the universe that we know of. Wolf and his colleagues employed a device on the VLT called a spectrometer to analyze the light coming from the new brightest quasar and determine how much was produced by the SMBH’s swirling disc of gas and matter, termed its accretion disc.

Utilizing the light spectra, the scientists also estimated that the mass of the black hole was between 5 billion and 50 billion solar masses. Wolf and his colleagues also have the credit of finding the previous brightest quasar, which was about half the brightness of J0529-4351, way back in 2018. Wolf believes that the new discovery is likely to remain the record-holder for quite some time, as the vast majority of the observable sky has already been surveyed in great detail, thanks to comprehensive star catalogues such as that produced by Gaia. “This is the biggest unicorn with the longest horn on its head that we’ve found. I don’t think we’re going to top that record,” says Wolf.

The quasar’s accretion disc seems to be the widest yet discovered, at 7 light years across. This presents a rare opportunity to image the black hole directly and precisely measure its mass, says Christine Done (Durham University, UK). “This is big enough and bright enough that we could resolve it with our current instruments,” says Done. “So we could have a much more direct measure of the black hole mass in this monster, and that’s what I did get quite excited about.”

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