NASA found a galaxy shining brighter than 300 trillion suns

Artist’s concept of what 300 trillion suns looks like. Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has found the most luminous galaxy to date.

WISE J224607.57-052635.0 belongs to a new class of objects known as ELIRGs – extremely luminous infrared galaxies. This one in particular shines more brightly than 300 trillion suns.

WISE has only been spotting these types of galaxies since 2010, as the way they evolve means the dust pouring out of them turns their visible light into infrared light, which WISE has only recently tuned into.

Here’s what the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California think they’re dealing with. The numbers involved are staggering, even by space standards.

  • WISE J224607.57-052635.0 is likely to have a super-massive black hole at its centre. That’s not unusual, but finding one this “far back” is — its light has travelled 12.5 billion years to reach us.
  • The JPL team reckons even when our universe was a tenth of its present age of 13.8 billion years, the black hole at the centre of WISE J224607.57-052635.0 was “billions of times the mass of our sun”.

Its size and that of other ELIRGs is redefining the theory behind the way scientists thought black holes “fed” and grew.

In their words:

When a black hole feeds, gas falls in and heats up, blasting out light. The pressure of the light actually pushes the gas away, creating a limit to how fast the black hole can continuously scarf down matter. If a black hole broke this limit, it could theoretically balloon in size at a breakneck pace. Black holes have previously been observed breaking this limit; however, the black hole in the study would have had to repeatedly break the limit to grow this large.

“The massive black holes in ELIRGs could be gorging themselves on more matter for a longer period of time,” report co-author Andrew Blain of University of Leicester said.

“It’s like winning a hot-dog-eating contest lasting hundreds of millions of years.”

You can read the full paper on WISE J224607.57-052635.0 here and find more out about WISE here.

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