The fastest-growing black hole of the past nine billion years has been discovered by an international team led by astronomers* from the Australian National University (ANU).
The black hole eats up the equivalent of one Earth every second and shines 7,000 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 a haystack*”.
“Astronomers have been hunting these types of objects for more than 50 years,” said Dr. onken. “They found thousands of fainter ones, but this astonishingly bright one slipped through unnoticed.”
The black hole has the mass of three billion suns. Others of similar size stopped growing so fast billions of years ago.
“Now we want to know why this one is different – did something catastrophic* happen?” said Doctor Onken. “Maybe two large galaxies collided, funneling a lot of material onto the black hole to feed it.”
Co-authored associate professor Christian Wolf said the black hole was “such an outlier*”.
“Although you should never say never, I don’t believe we’ll find another one like this,” he said.
“We are pretty sure this record will not be broken. We essentially run out of air where these kinds of objects could hide.”
The black hole has a visual magnitude* of 14.5 – a measure of how bright an object appears to an observer on Earth.
This brightness* means anyone with a decent telescope in a very dark backyard can see it comfortably.
“It’s 500 times bigger than the black hole in our own galaxy,” said co-author and ANU doctoral student Samuel Lai.
“The orbits of the planets in our solar system would all fit within the event horizon — the boundary of the black hole 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 The find has not yet been peer-reviewed* but has been submitted to Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.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 that is almost impossible or very difficult to find
- catastrophic: causing sudden and very great damage or destruction
- funnel: direct, nurture, direct, channel
- outlier: a person, thing, or fact that is very different from the rest
- size: size, measure, circumference, width
- Brightness: producing or reflecting bright light, the condition in which it appears to shine
- collaboration: partnership, cooperation, working with others to achieve something
- observatory: special building scientists look at 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 visual magnitude of the black hole?
- How much bigger than the black hole in our galaxy is it?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Describing the black hole
Many descriptive words and phrases have been used in this news story to help us understand the black hole’s size, brightness and uniqueness. Read the story carefully and mark all the words and phrases used to describe it.
Make a list of words or phrases that are not in this news story that could also be used to describe the black hole.
Time: give 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English
Explain in one sentence what a black hole is so that a 5-year-old can understand it.
Time: allow 5 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science
Show that you have read and understood the article by writing three sentences with the connecting words “because”, “and” and “but” (BAB).
Your sentences may share different facts or opinions, or the same but written in different ways.
What can you think of?
Don’t forget to use your VCOP editing skills to read aloud, edit and level up.
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