Brightest Black Hole

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Brightest Black Hole

Black holes are the darkest objects in the universe — they produce no light at all. Yet they power some of the brightest objects. Known as quasars, these beacons can outshine entire galaxies of hundreds of billions of stars. In fact, the brightest one seen so far emits more light every minute than the Sun will produce in its entire 10-billion-year lifetime.

A black hole’s gravity is so powerful that nothing can escape from it — not even light. But before anything disappears into the black hole, it enters a disk that spirals around the black hole at a good fraction of the speed of light. That creates friction, which heats the material to millions of degrees. The disk emits enormous amounts of radiation, so it shines brightly at many wavelengths.

Quasars are disks around supermassive black holes in the hearts of galaxies. And the brightest one yet seen is truly a monster. It encircles a black hole that appears to be about 17 billion times the mass of the Sun. The black hole is gulping the equivalent of a star as massive as the Sun every day. That creates a disk that’s hundreds of millions of miles across. It shines thousands of times brighter than our entire Milky Way Galaxy.

We see the quasar as it looked more than 12 billion years ago — not long after the birth of the universe. So by now, it’s probably shut down — turning off one of the most brilliant lights we’ve ever seen.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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