Starts With A Bang

Universe’s Largest Black Hole May Have An Explanation At Last (Synopsis)

My original caption, "An ultra-distant quasar showing plenty of evidence for a supermassive black hole at its center. How that black hole got so massive so quickly is a topic of contentious scientific debate, but may have an answer that fits within our standard theories." may be flawed. Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Michigan/R.C.Reis et al; Optical: NASA/STScI.

“Ultramassive black holes — that is, black holes with masses exceeding 10 billion solar masses — are probably not rare; several and even dozens of these colossal black holes may exist.” -Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo

The largest black hole in the Universe was a shocker when it was first discovered. At 40 billion solar masses, it certainly is impressively large. Like other quasars and active galaxies, it has a luminous accretion disk that can be seen from a great distance. Like only a few, one of its two incredibly energetic, polar jets is pointed directly at Earth, creating a blazar, the brightest of all active galaxies.

When an active galaxy has one of its jets pointed directly at Earth, we observe an ultra-luminous phenomenon known as a blazar. These are the brightest objects seen in the entire Universe. Image credit: NASA / JPL.

But what makes this object, known as S5 0014+81, so special is that it got so big and massive so quickly. Its light comes to us from a time when the Universe was only 1.6 billion years old: just 12% of its current age. If this brilliant, massive object were located a mere 280 light years away, or ‘only’ 18 million times the Earth-Sun distance, it would shine as brightly as our life-giving star.

If this quasar were 18 million times as far away as our Sun (280 light years from Earth), it would shine as bright in the sky as our life-giving star does. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Alan 2988.

Come learn about the largest ultramassive black hole known in the Universe, what explains its existence, and how there might be an even more massive one out there for Mostly Mute Monday!