J2157: The most massive black hole ever detected

Hyperaxion July 2, 2020 9:56 pm

The black hole devours the equivalent of a Sun every day and formed just 1.2 billion years after the Big Bang.

An analysis by the Australian National University revealed that the J2157 black hole is the fastest-growing object of its type in the Universe. According to the study published at the end of June in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the black hole is 34 billion times the mass of our Sun and devours the equivalent of a Sun every day.

J2157: The most massive black hole ever detected
(Credit: Nima Abkenar / The Australian National University).

“The black hole’s mass is also about 8,000 times bigger than the black hole in the centre of the Milky Way,” said researcher Christopher Onken, co-author of the study, in a statement. “If the Milky Way’s black hole wanted to grow that fat, it would have to swallow two thirds of all the stars in our Galaxy.”       

It is estimated that the black hole appeared when the Universe was only 1.2 billion years old, which is less than 10% of its current age (about 13.8 billion years). However, it is still a mystery how such a massive cosmic object may have originated so soon after the Big Bang, which is precisely why astronomers plan to continue studying it.

Astronomers used the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile to accurately measure the mass of the black hole. According to the scientists, the amount of mass that a black hole can devour depends on the size it already has.

“With such an enormous black hole, we’re also excited to see what we can learn about the galaxy in which it’s growing,” noted Onken. “Is this galaxy one of the behemoths of the early Universe, or did the black hole just swallow up an extraordinary amount of its surroundings? We’ll have to keep digging to figure that out.”

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