Australian astronomers find black hole as big as 20 billion suns

The fastest-growing black hole in the universe eats a sun every 48 hours - and Australian astronomers have found it

Researchers have spotted the fastest-growing black hole ever found - and have seen the (thankfully) distant devourer consume a mass equivalent to Earth's sun every two days. What started as the size of about 20 billion suns has grown one percent every million years, into the cosmic behemoth we know now.

This makes the monster black hole incredibly bright, outshining even a big galaxy. Wolf further added that it would have appeared as an unbelievably bright "pin-point star", which could wash out almost every star present in the celestial sphere.

As Dr. Christian Wolf of the Australian National University explained, this finding represents a big problem for astrophysics which, until now, was pretty much sure that supernovae turn into black holes which are up to 50 solar masses and can not exceed this limitation.

Dr. Christian Wolf, from ANU's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, explains that the rapidly expanding quasar puts on a spectacular light show as it engulfs everything around it. So if Wolf is right, this insane black hole is sending out an nearly incomprehensible amount of sterilizing radiation that essentially renders an entire corner of the cosmos inhospitable to life as we know it.

But don't panic - Dr Wolf says it won't suck us in.

The group of specialists found the void with SkyMapper, an optical telescope in Australia, and the European Space Agency's Gaia satellite, and NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.

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However, it's a good thing our planet is not so close to such a monster black hole. This also helped with its detection as light waves from the black hole red-shifted during their long journey to Earth, allowing the astronomers to use ANU's SkyMapper telescope to detect them in near-infrared.

"Fast-growing supermassive black holes also help to clear the fog around them by ionising gases", Wolf said in a statement, "which makes the Universe more transparent".

"There's a big mystery about how these supermassive black holes form, because we don't understand how something could get that big that quickly; our normal theories don't work", she says.

The discovery of the new supermassive black hole was confirmed using the spectrograph on the ANU 2.3 metre telescope to split colours into spectral lines. As supermassive black holes like these grow, the shadows of other objects can be spotted in front of them. The team looked into the early universe to find the black hole.

According to Wolf, this kind of black holes that are both fast-growing and incredibly large are "exceedingly rare" to find and could actually be used to measure the expansion of the universe.

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