Astronomers discover quasar 500 trillion times brighter than the Sun

Black hole is swallowing 'a Sun a day' and growing at the fastest rate on record

An artist's impression of the record-breaking quasar J059-4351, the bright core of a distant galaxy that is powered by a supermassive black hole. EPA
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Astronomers have discovered what is believed to be the brightest object in the universe, which shines 500 trillion times brighter than our Sun and is more than 17 billion times as large.

It is the luminous core of an early galaxy and is powered by a supermassive black hole that swallows the equivalent of a sun each day.

The quasar, as it is called, was found by an Australian-led team and reported Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The researchers said a super-bright, highly energetic disk of gas and dust swirling around the quasar's black hole acts like a cosmic hurricane, actively adding material from gobbled-up stars, through a process called accretion.

Using a model, scientists determined the quasar has accreted, or swallowed, about 370 solar masses per year — about one Sun per day.

That comes close to what scientists believe is the upper limit of what is possible, but they say further research and observations are needed.

“This quasar is the most violent place that we know in the universe,” lead author Christian Wolf of Australian National University said.

The European Southern Observatory spotted the object, J0529-4351, during a 1980 sky survey, but it was mistakenly identified as a star at the time.

It was not named a quasar — the extremely active and luminous core of a galaxy — until last year. Observations by telescopes in Australia and Chile’s Atacama Desert clinched it.

“The exciting thing about this quasar is that it was hiding in plain sight and was misclassified as a star previously,” Yale University's Priyamvada Natarajan, who was not involved in the study, said.

The quasar is 12 billion light-years away and has been around since the early days of the universe. A light-year is 5.8 trillion miles.

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Updated: March 05, 2024, 11:38 AM