A NASA spacecraft has just discovered the brightest galaxy in the known universe.
NASA’s WISE (short for Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) found the blindingly bright galaxy poetically named WISE J224607.57-052635.0. The galaxy seems to have a giant supermassive black hole eating all the gas it can find in the galaxy’s center, making it glow brilliantly to the spacecraft’s eye.
The galaxy shines as brightly as 300 trillion of our sun. (That’d be: 300,000,000,000,000, if you were wondering.)
“We are looking at a very intense phase of galaxy evolution,” Chao-Wei Tsai of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, lead author of the new galaxy study published in the Astrophysical Journal this week said in a statement. “This dazzling light may be from the main growth spurt of the galaxy’s black hole.”
WISE actually captured photos revealing the luminous galaxy in 2010. But scientists took a while to sift through the infrared images to find this and other distant, bright galaxies.
The WISE mission was originally put into hibernation in 2011 after it mapped the full sky twice looking for a multitude of cosmic objects in infrared light. The spacecraft was turned back on again in 2013 and renamed NEOWISE. The probe now hunts the skies for potentially threatening near-Earth objects (NEOs).
The light of WISE J224607 had to travel 12.5 billion years before it could reach WISE.
The galaxy emitted its light when the universe was about one-tenth of its age now, according to NASA. (The universe is about 13.8 billion years old.)
Scientists aren’t exactly sure how the bright black hole in the middle of this galaxy grew so large so quickly not long after the universe started. It’s possible that black holes this size simply grew this massive after snacking on a lot of material, or it might be bending or breaking the rules of black hole feeding, according to NASA.
“Another way for a black hole to grow this big is for it to have gone on a sustained binge, consuming food faster than typically thought possible,” Tsai said. “This can happen if the black hole isn’t spinning that fast.”