The Fastest-Growing Black Hole Gobbles Up One Sun a Day

New research just found incredible information on the hungriest black hole in the Universe.
supermassive black hole eats sun
This artist's concept illustrates a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of our sun. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech

The cosmos that lies beyond the observable universe we can see from Earth is so vast and probably infinite that chances are, we will never truly be able to map out everything that’s happening. But every once in a while, information about some distant celestial occurring reaches us and we can only be stupefied at its sheer inestimability.

Today, this information comes in the form of the fastest-growing black hole in the universe. In new research published on June 30 in the science journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, scientists have figured out how massive and hungry the fastest-growing black hole in our universe is.


It is 34 billion times the mass of our sun, and eats up nearly the equivalent of one sun every day!

Every big galaxy has a central supermassive black hole, known as a quasar, which is always actively consuming celestial material around it. So obviously, there’s one in the Milky Way too. And for comparison, the supermassive black hole in the centre of our galaxy is about 4 million solar masses. Thus, this newly discovered gargantuan black hole is about 8,000 times bigger than the black hole in the centre of the Milky Way. “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,” explained Dr Christopher Onken, the primary researcher of the study in a statement.

The research was led by a team from The Australian National University, included researchers from the University of Arizona, and used European Southern Observatory’s telescope in Chile to accurately measure the black hole’s mass. This giant black hole—known as J2157—was discovered by the same research team in 2018. And as it turns out, this black hole is incredibly far away. The light we see from the black hole left it more than 12.5 billion years ago—just 1.2 billion years after the Big Bang itself. “We’re seeing it at a time when the universe was only 1.2 billion years old, less than 10 percent of its current age,” adds Onken. So while several more massive black holes have been found, they were in galaxies closer to us. This one, though, is the most massive ever found at this distance range from us, at this early of a period in the Universe.


And that’s not all. It is also known to devour the equivalent of nearly one sun every day. How much black holes can swallow depends on how much mass they already have, and the way this one consumes only adds to it being the fastest-growing and one of the most massive black holes in the entire universe. Additionally, since energy released as light is proportional to what is consumed, the black hole’s massive consumption capacities also make it the most luminous known quasar.

“We knew we were onto a very massive black hole when we realised its fast growth rate,” said team member Dr Fuyan Bian, a staff astronomer at the European Southern Observatory. “For this one to be devouring matter at such a high rate, we thought it could become a new record holder. And now we know.”

The scientists are excited about the future possibilities of this discovery. “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?” added Onken. “We’ll have to keep digging to figure that out.”

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