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Brightest Object in the Universe Discovered – Powered by Supermassive Black Hole Eating a Sun a Day

This artist’s impression shows the record-breaking quasar J059-4351, the bright core of a distant galaxy that is powered by a supermassive black hole. Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, this quasar has been found to be the most luminous object known in the Universe to date. The supermassive black hole, seen here pulling in surrounding matter, has a mass 17 billion times that of the Sun and is growing in mass by the equivalent of another Sun per day, making it the fastest-growing black hole ever known. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Astronomers using the ESOCreated in 1962, the European Southern Observatory (ESO), is a 16-nation intergovernmental research organization for ground-based astronomy. Its formal name is the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>ESO’s VLT have discovered the brightest and most luminous quasar ever observed, powered by the fastest-growing black holeA black hole is a place in space where the gravitational field is so strong that not even light can escape it. Astronomers classify black holes into three categories by size: miniature, stellar, and supermassive black holes. Miniature black holes could have a mass smaller than our Sun and supermassive black holes could have a mass equivalent to billions of our Sun.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>black hole known, which accumulates mass at the rate of one Sun per day.

Using the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large TelescopeThe Very Large Telescope array (VLT) is a visible and infrared wavelength telescope facility operated by the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. It is the world's most advanced optical instrument, consisting of four Unit Telescopes with main mirrors of 8.2m diameter and four movable 1.8m diameter Auxiliary Telescopes.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have characterized a bright quasar, finding it to be not only the brightest of its kind, but also the most luminous object ever observed. Quasars are the bright cores of distant galaxies and they are powered by supermassive black holes. The black hole in this record-breaking quasar is growing in mass by the equivalent of one Sun per day, making it the fastest-growing black hole to date.

The black holes powering quasars collect matter from their surroundings in a process so energetic that it emits vast amounts of light. So much so that quasars are some of the brightest objects in our sky, meaning even distant ones are visible from Earth. As a general rule, the most luminous quasars indicate the fastest-growing supermassive black holes.

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Astronomers have characterized the most luminous quasar observed to date, which is powered by the fastest-growing black hole. This black hole is growing in mass by the equivalent of one Sun per day. The matter being pulled in toward this black hole forms a disc that measures seven light-years in diameter — about 15,000 times the distance from the Sun to the orbit of NeptuneNeptune is the farthest planet from the sun. In our solar system, it is the fourth-largest planet by size, and third densest. It is named after the Roman god of the sea.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>Neptune. Credit: ESO

“We have discovered the fastest-growing black hole known to date. It has a mass of 17 billion Suns, and eats just over a Sun per day. This makes it the most luminous object in the known Universe,” says Christian Wolf, an astronomer at the Australian National UniversityFounded in 1946, the Australian National University (ANU) is a national research university located in Canberra, the capital of Australia. Its main campus in Acton encompasses seven teaching and research colleges, in addition to several national academies and institutes.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>Australian National University (ANU) and lead author of the study published today in Nature Astronomy. The quasar, called J0529-4351, is so far away from Earth that its light took over 12 billion years to reach us.

The matter being pulled in toward this black hole, in the form of a disc, emits so much energy that J0529-4351 is over 500 trillion times more luminous than the Sun.[1] “All this light comes from a hot accretion disc that measures seven light-years in diameter — this must be the largest accretion disc in the Universe,” says ANU PhD student and co-author Samuel Lai. Seven light-years is about 15,000 times the distance from the Sun to the orbit of Neptune.

Quasar J0529-4351 Wide-Field

This image shows the region of the sky in which the record-breaking quasar J0529-4351 is situated. Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, this quasar has been found to be the most luminous object known in the Universe to date. This picture was created from images forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2, while the inset shows the location of the quasar in an image from the Dark Energy Survey. Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Dark Energy Survey

And, remarkably, this record-breaking quasar was hiding in plain sight. “It is a surprise that it has remained unknown until today, when we already know about a million less impressive quasars. It has literally been staring us in the face until now,” says co-author Christopher Onken, an astronomer at ANU. He added that this object showed up in images from the ESO Schmidt Southern Sky Survey dating back to 1980, but it was not recognized as a quasar until decades later.

Finding quasars requires precise observational data from large areas of the sky. The resulting datasets are so large that researchers often use machine-learning models to analyze them and tell quasars apart from other celestial objects. However, these models are trained on existing data, which limits the potential candidates to objects similar to those already known. If a new quasar is more luminous than any other previously observed, the program might reject it and classify it instead as a star not too distant from Earth.

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This artist’s impression shows the quasar J0529-4351, the bright core of a distant galaxy that is powered by a supermassive black hole. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

An automated analysis of data from the European Space AgencyThe European Space Agency (ESA) is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration and study of space. ESA was established in 1975 and has 22 member states, with its headquarters located in Paris, France. ESA is responsible for the development and coordination of Europe's space activities, including the design, construction, and launch of spacecraft and satellites for scientific research and Earth observation. Some of ESA's flagship missions have included the Rosetta mission to study a comet, the Gaia mission to create a 3D map of the Milky Way, and the ExoMars mission to search for evidence of past or present life on Mars.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite passed over J0529-4351 for being too bright to be a quasar, suggesting it to be a star instead. The researchers identified it as a distant quasar last year using observations from the ANU 2.3-meter telescope at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia. Discovering that it was the most luminous quasar ever observed, however, required a larger telescope and measurements from a more precise instrument. The X-shooter spectrograph on ESO’s VLT in the Chilean Atacama Desert provided the crucial data.

The fastest-growing black hole ever observed will also be a perfect target for the GRAVITY+ upgrade on ESO’s VLT Interferometer (VLTI), which is designed to accurately measure the mass of black holes, including those far away from Earth. Additionally, ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), a 39-metre telescope under construction in the Chilean Atacama Desert, will make identifying and characterizing such elusive objects even more feasible.

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This video takes us on a journey from our Milky WayThe Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our Solar System and is part of the Local Group of galaxies. It is a barred spiral galaxy that contains an estimated 100-400 billion stars and has a diameter between 150,000 and 200,000 light-years. The name "Milky Way" comes from the appearance of the galaxy from Earth as a faint band of light that stretches across the night sky, resembling spilled milk.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>Milky Way far into the sky to the quasar J0529-4351, the bright core of a distant galaxy, in the direction of the Pictor constellation. The video ends with an artist’s impression of this record-breaking object; all other visuals shown are real astronomical images. Credit: ESO/N. Risinger ( Sky Survey 2/Dark Energy Survey/M. Kornmesser. Music: Astral Electronic

Finding and studying distant supermassive black holes could shed light on some of the mysteries of the early Universe, including how they and their host galaxies formed and evolved. But that’s not the only reason why Wolf searches for them. “Personally, I simply like the chase,” he says. “For a few minutes a day, I get to feel like a child again, playing treasure hunt, and now I bring everything to the table that I have learned since.”


  1. A few years ago, NASAEstablished in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. Its vision is "To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity." Its core values are "safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and inclusion." NASA conducts research, develops technology and launches missions to explore and study Earth, the solar system, and the universe beyond. It also works to advance the state of knowledge in a wide range of scientific fields, including Earth and space science, planetary science, astrophysics, and heliophysics, and it collaborates with private companies and international partners to achieve its goals.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>NASA and the European Space Agency reported that the Hubble Space TelescopeThe Hubble Space Telescope (often referred to as Hubble or HST) is one of NASA's Great Observatories and was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990. It is one of the largest and most versatile space telescopes in use and features a 2.4-meter mirror and four main instruments that observe in the ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. It was named after astronomer Edwin Hubble.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>Hubble Space Telescope had discovered a quasar, J043947.08+163415.7, as bright as 600 trillion Suns. However, that quasar’s brightness was magnified by a ‘lensing’ galaxy, located between us and the distant quasar. The actual luminosity of J043947.08+163415.7 is estimated to be equivalent to about 11 trillion Suns (1 trillion is a million million: 1,000,000,000,000 or 1012).

Reference: “The accretion of a solar mass per day by a 17-billion solar mass black hole” by Christian Wolf, Samuel Lai, Christopher A. Onken, Neelesh Amrutha, Fuyan Bian, Wei Jeat Hon, Patrick Tisserand and Rachel L. Webster, 19 February 2024, Nature Astronomy.
DOI: 10.1038/s41550-024-02195-x

The team is composed of Christian Wolf (Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australian National University, Australia [ANU] and Centre for Gravitational Astrophysics, Australian National University, Australia [CGA]), Samuel Lai (ANU), Christopher A. Onken (ANU), Neelesh Amrutha (ANU), Fuyan Bian (European Southern Observatory, Chile), Wei Jeat Hon (School of Physics, University of Melbourne, Australia [Melbourne]), Patrick Tisserand (Sorbonne Universités, CNRS, UMR 7095, Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, France), and Rachel L. Webster (Melbourne).

Source: SciTechDaily