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The fastest growing black hole devours about one sun every day


Black holes still offer some of the greatest secrets – and superlatives – that exist.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

The fastest growing black hole known to humans is surprisingly large and apparently very, very hungry, according to new research by an international team of astronomers. “The mass of the black hole is also approximately 8,000 times larger than that of the black hole in the middle of the Milky Way,” said Christopher Onken of the Australian National University in a press release.

To further localize it, the yawning void, known as J2157, is 34 billion times the mass of our sun and consumes the equivalent of one sun a day.

“If the Milky Way black hole wanted this fat to grow, it would have to swallow two thirds of all the stars in our galaxy,” adds Onken.

Onken and his team discovered the black hole in 2018 and were amazed at its rapid growth rate.

“How much black holes can swallow depends on how much mass they already have,” said team member Fuyan Bian from the European Southern Observatory (ESO). “In order for this topic to be swallowed up so quickly, we thought it could become a new record holder. And now we know it.”

The team used ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile to get accurate data on the mass of the black hole. Their results appear in monthly communications from the Royal Astronomical Society.

Fortunately, the giant of a black hole is billions of light years away, which also means that researchers saw it when the universe was very young. How a black hole can become so massive at such an early stage in the history of the universe is one of the more intriguing riddles the team wants to follow.

“Is this galaxy one of the giants of the early universe,” Onken asks, “or has the black hole just swallowed up an extraordinary amount of its surroundings? We have to dig further to find out.”

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