A newly discovered giant black hole shines 7000 brighter than all the light in our own galaxy and devours the equivalent of an Earth a second. This artist's impression of a black hole shows galaxies trapped in its gas web. Picture: AFP/L.Calcada/European Southern Observatory

A black hole devours an Earth every second

The fastest growing black hole in 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 one Earth’s worth every second and shines 7,000 times brighter than all the light in our own galaxy, making it visible to well-equipped astronomers.

Lead researcher Dr Christopher Onken and his co-authors described it as an “unexpectedly big needle in the haystack”.

“Astronomers have been searching for objects like this for more than 50 years,” Dr Onken said. “They found thousands of weaker ones, but this surprisingly bright one went unnoticed.”

The black hole has the mass of three billion suns. Others of similar size stopped growing as quickly billions of years ago.

“Now we want to know why this one is different – did something catastrophic* happen?” says Dr. Onken. “Perhaps two large galaxies crashed into each other, dumping* a lot of material on the black hole to fuel it.”

Co-author, Associate Professor Christian Wolf, said the black hole was “such an outlier*”.

“While never say never, I don’t believe we’ll find another like this,” he said.

“We are quite confident that this record will not be broken. We basically ran out of skies where objects like this could hide.

The black hole has a visual magnitude* of 14.5 – a measure of an object’s brightness 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 larger than the black hole in our own galaxy,” said co-author and ANU PhD researcher Samuel Lai.

“The orbits of the planets in our solar system would all fall within its event horizon – the black hole boundary 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 The discovery has not yet been peer-reviewed* but has been submitted for publication by the Astronomical Society of Australia.

GLOSSARY

  • astronomers: scientists who study stars, planets and other natural objects in space
  • needle in a haystack: something almost impossible or very difficult to find
  • catastrophic: causing sudden and very serious damage or destruction
  • funnel: direct, nurture, guide, channel
  • outlier: a person, thing or fact that is extremely different from others
  • magnitude: height, measure, extent, width
  • brightness: producing or reflecting bright light, the state of appearing to shine
  • collaboration: partnership, cooperation, working with others to achieve something
  • observatory: special building scientists use to observe planets, stars and weather
  • Peer Reviewed: evaluation of claims, findings and theories by other experts in the field

FURTHER READING

First image of a black hole in our galaxy

A black hole swallows a neutron star

Biggest black hole collision ever detected

QUICK QUIZ

  1. How many times brighter than all the light in our galaxy is the light from the black hole?
  2. The black hole consumes the equivalent of what every second?
  3. The black hole has the mass of how many suns?
  4. What is the visual magnitude of the black hole?
  5. How much bigger than the black hole in our galaxy is this one?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASS ACTIVITIES
1. Describe the black hole
Many descriptive words and phrases have been used in this report to help us understand the size, brightness and uniqueness of the black hole. Read the story carefully and underline all the words and phrases that were used to describe it.

Make a list of words or phrases that are not in this story that could also be used to describe the black hole.

Time: allow 20 minutes for this activity
Program links: English

2. Extension
Explain what a black hole is in one sentence, so that it can be understood by a 5 year old child.

Time: allow 5 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English; Science

VCOP ACTIVITY
BAB that!
Show that you have read and understood the article by writing three sentences using the connectors “because”, “and” and “but” (BAB).

Your sentences can share different facts or opinions, or the same ones but written in different ways.

What can you suggest?

Remember to use your VCOP editing skills to read aloud, edit and upgrade.

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