NASA‘s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) has discovered a remote galaxy, far, far away that is the brightest galaxy known to date. Researchers calculated it burns with the light of 300 trillion suns. The sheer brightness of this galaxy puts it in an entirely new class of space objects, extremely luminous infrared galaxies (ELIRGs), discovered using WISE. NASA has been using WISE, opposed to other methods, to target ELIRGs because the dust surrounding these super-luminous galaxies blocks visible light, and reduces it to infrared light.
The official name of the galaxy is WISE J224607.57-052635.0. Researchers believe that the galaxy’s luminosity stems from a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. This, in itself, is not rare, but this specific black hole is incredibly large and old. Research indicates that it was billions of times larger than our sun by the time the universe was only one-tenth of the way into its current age of 13.8 billion years. As the black hole sucks in gas and matter, it heats surrounding matter to millions of degrees, creating X-Rays, ultraviolet, and visible light. Even though the light is blocked by a cocoon of dust, the heated dust releases infrared light.
The scientists’ paper points out three different theories that could be behind the black hole’s massive growth spurt. The black hole could have arisen from “seed” black holes which were already larger than scientists thought possible. Co-author, Peter Eisenhardt, points out, “How do you get an elephant? One way is to start with a baby elephant.”
Besides starting large, the black hole could have been spinning slowly, allowing it to go on a “sustained binge,” consuming matter much faster than anticipated. A third explanation involves breaking the Eddington limit of black hole feeding to grow so massive so quickly.