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Astronomers discover universe’s brightest known object

The brightest object in the universe could be a quasar that was hiding in plain sight and is growing in mass by the equivalent of one Sun a day

This illustration provided by the European Southern Observatory in February 2024, depicts the record-breaking quasar J059-4351, the bright core of a distant galaxy that is powered by a supermassive black hole.(AP)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 20.02.2024  |  06:00 PM IST

Astronomers have found that the brightest object in the universe could be a quasar, which is growing in mass by the equivalent of one Sun a day, making it the fastest-growing black hole yet. They used the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT), to identify the quasar, which could also be the brightest of its kind.

According to ESO, quasars are the bright cores of distant galaxies and they are powered by supermassive black holes. The black holes that power quasars devour matter from their surroundings in a process that emits huge amounts of light. Quasars are some of the brightest objects in our sky, so even distant ones are visible from Earth.

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It took the new quasar, called J0529-4351, over 12 billion years to reach Earth and it has the mass of 17 billion Suns. The matter being pulled in toward this black hole emits so much energy that J0529-4351 is over 500 trillion times more luminous than the Sun, ESO said in a statement. “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," co-author Samuel Lai adds in the statement.

Interestingly, this record-breaking quasar was hiding in plain sight. It is a surprise that it has remained unknown at a time when astronomers know about a million less impressive quasars, co-author Christopher Onken said in the statement. Previously, automated analysis of data from the ESO’s Gaia satellite passed over J0529-4351, considering it too bright to be a quasar, suggesting it to be a star instead. It was the ANU 2.3-metre telescope at Siding Spring Observatory that pinpointed J0529-4351 as a distant quasar.

Black holes like these are the targets 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, ESO noted in its statement. Importantly, finding and studying distant supermassive black holes could help understand some mysteries of the universe such as how they and their host galaxies formed and evolved.

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