Record: This Black Hole Devours a Sun Per Day

Published by Adrien - Thursday, February 22, 2024 - Other Languages: FR, DE, ES, PT
Source: Nature Astronomy

The quasar J0529-4351 raises questions with its impressive records. Located at such a distance that its light reaches us after a 12-billion-year journey, this quasar gives us a glimpse of the young Universe, less than 2 billion years after the Big Bang. At the heart of this luminous source lies a supermassive black hole with an unprecedented appetite, engulfing more than a solar mass per day.

Illustration of the record-setting quasar J059-4351, the luminous core of a distant galaxy powered by a very active supermassive black hole.
Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

This quasar is not only the brightest ever observed but also harbors the fastest-growing black hole known, with an estimated mass between 17 and 19 billion times that of the Sun. Its brightness would outshine our star by 500 trillion times if the two were compared side by side. The discovery of J0529-4351 challenges our understanding of quasars and supermassive black holes.

Quasars, located at the heart of active galaxies, are powered by supermassive black holes surrounded by accretion disks. These disks, made up of gas and dust, heat up under the effect of intense gravity and radiate spectacularly. Additionally, matter not absorbed by the black hole is ejected at speeds close to that of light, contributing to the exceptional brightness of these objects.

The identification of J0529-4351 as a quasar was made possible through the use of the 2.3 meter telescope at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia, followed by a more detailed study with the X-shooter spectrograph at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Atacama Desert, Chile. This discovery highlights the importance of machine learning models in analyzing astronomical data.

Future investigations on this quasar will employ the VLT's GRAVITY+ instrument, as well as the upcoming Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), to better understand the limits of accretion and the mechanisms fueling this extreme phenomenon.
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