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Astronomers discover fastest-growing black hole that consumes a 'sun a day’

Astronomers discover fastest-growing black hole that consumes a 'sun a day’

Amazingly, it's also the brightest known object in the universe.

We may have just discovered the brightest thing in the known universe - and, paradoxically, it's powered by a black hole.

While black holes might conjure up visions of a void without light, they can sometimes power what's called a quasar.

This is a massively bright core, and often forms the center of a galaxy - it can put out simply enormous quantities of light.

ESO/M. Kornmesser

A quasar is exactly what's just been discovered by a team of Australian astronomers - and it appears to be powered by the fastest-growing black hole ever discovered, too, making this a slam dunk of a find.

The quasar itself, meanwhile, is growing so fast it's swallowing up the equivalent of the Sun every single day.

The Australian National University team apparently first made their discovery using a relatively modest telescope in New South Wales, before verifying it using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope - which as the kind of hilarious name suggests, is massive and super powerful..

Lead author, ANU associate professor Christian Wolf, said: "It looks like a gigantic and magnetic storm cell with temperatures of 10,000 degrees Celsius, lightning everywhere and winds blowing so fast they would go around Earth in a second."

That's pretty wild to imagine and sounds like the sort of thing from a science-fiction movie (and a very well-researched one at that). Wolf continued: "This storm cell is seven light years across, which is 50% more than the distance from our solar system to the next star in the galaxy, alpha Centauri."

ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Dark Energy Survey

So, the quasar is absolutely massive, but it's also very far away - the light that was captured by the telescope apparently took 12 billion years to reach our planet, a number so big that it boggles the mind, since a light-year is around 5.8 trillion miles.

The crazy numbers don't stop there, either - try to imagine this: the black hole that's powering this mega-bright quasar has a mass equal to roughly 17 to 19 billion times that of our Sun. That impossible-sounding situation sort of sums up the magic of astronomy, in some ways.

Perhaps the most surprising part of this story is that this incredibly bright object had actually been spotted before - it was found in 1980, and given the catchy designation of J0529-4351. However, at that point, it was wrongly deemed to be just a star, which means that it almost hid in plain sight for a few decades. Whoever made that call back in 1980 might be feeling a bit red-faced now!

Featured Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/EPA/ ESO