The fastest-growing black hole of the last nine billion years has been discovered by an international team led by astronomers* at The Australian National University (ANU).
The black hole eats the equivalent of one Earth every second and shines 7000 times brighter than all the light from our own galaxy, making it visible to well-equipped backyard astronomers.
Lead researcher Dr Christopher Onken and his co-authors described it as a “very large, unexpected needle in the haystack*”.
“Astronomers have been hunting for objects like this for more than 50 years,” Dr Onken said. “They have found thousands of fainter ones, but this astonishingly bright one had slipped through unnoticed.”
The black hole has the mass of three billion suns. Others of a similar size stopped growing so quickly billions of years ago.
“Now we want to know why this one is different – did something catastrophic* happen?” Dr Onken said. “Perhaps two big galaxies crashed into each other, funnelling* a whole lot of material onto the black hole to feed it.”
Co-author Associate Professor Christian Wolf said the black hole was “such an outlier*”.
“While you should never say never, I don’t believe we will find another one like this,” he said.
“We are fairly confident this record will not be broken. We have essentially run out of sky where objects like this could be hiding.”
The black hole has a visual magnitude* of 14.5 – a measure of how bright an object appears to an observer on Earth.
This luminosity* means anyone with a decent telescope in a very dark backyard can see it comfortably.
“It is 500 times bigger than the black hole in our own galaxy,” co-author and ANU PhD researcher Samuel Lai said.
“The orbits of the planets in our solar system would all fit inside its event horizon – the black hole’s boundary from which nothing can escape.”
The discovery was made as part of the SkyMapper project, a digital survey of the entire southern sky, in collaboration* with seven Australian universities and the Australian Astronomical Observatory*. The find has not yet been peer-reviewed* but has been submitted to Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.
- astronomers: scientists who study stars, planets and other natural objects in space
- needle in a haystack: something nearly impossible or very hard to find
- catastrophic: causing sudden and very great harm or destruction
- funnelling: directing, feeding, guiding, channelling
- outlier: a person, thing or fact that is extremely different to the rest
- magnitude: size, measure, extent, breadth
- luminosity: producing or reflecting bright light, the state of appearing to shine
- collaboration: partnership, co-operation, working with others to achieve something
- observatory: special building scientists use to watch planets, stars and the weather
- peer-reviewed: evaluation of claims, discoveries and theories by other experts in the field
- How many times brighter than all the light in our galaxy is the light from the black hole?
- The black hole consumes the equivalent of what every second?
- The black hole has the mass of how many suns?
- What is the black hole’s visual magnitude?
- How much bigger than the black hole in our galaxy is this one?
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1. Describing the black hole
Lots of descriptive words and phrases have been used in this news story to help us understand the size, brightness and uniqueness of the black hole. Carefully read through the story and highlight all of the words and phrases that have been used to describe it.
Make a list of words or phrases not in this news story that could also be used to describe the black hole.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English
Explain what a black hole is in one sentence, so that it can be understood by a 5-year-old.
Time: allow 5 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science
Show you have read and understood the article by writing three sentences using the connectives “because’’, “and”, and “but” (BAB).
Your sentences can share different facts or opinions, or the same ones but written about in different ways.
What can you come up with?
Remember to use your VCOP editing skills to read aloud, edit and up-level.