Astro Bob: Brightest galaxy shines, black hole menaces in concept images
Our Milky Way is a substantial galaxy containing some 300 billion stars, over a thousand star clusters, tens of thousands of star-forming gas clouds and possibly up to 100 billion planets. All swirling around in pizza-like disk 100,000 light year...
Our Milky Way is a substantial galaxy containing some 300 billion stars, over a thousand star clusters, tens of thousands of star-forming gas clouds and possibly up to 100 billion planets. All swirling around in pizza-like disk 100,000 light years across. It’s big enough and bright enough to see dimly with the naked eye from the Andromeda Galaxy 2.5 million light years away.
But our home port pales next to a remote galaxy recently discovered by NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Explorer (WISE) probe. Bearing the numbery title of WISE J224607.57-052635.0, the galaxy shines with the light of 300 trillion suns, making it the most luminous galaxy found to date and one of a new class of objects recently discovered by WISE - extremely luminous infrared galaxies, or ELIRGs.
Those numbers tell us the galaxy’s coordinates or location in the sky, in this case the constellation Aquarius. While exceedingly faint because of its 12.5 billion-light-year distance from Earth, we know the galaxy radiates 10,000 times more energy than the Milky Way. Astronomers think it’s brilliant personality comes from a supermassive black hole at its center and an abundance of what black holes like to eat best, intergalactic gas. Well, they like gorging on stray stars and planets, too. They’re not exactly picky eaters.
Supermassive black holes draw gas and matter into a rotating disk around them, which heats up from friction to white-hot temperatures of millions of degrees, blasting out high-energy, visible, ultraviolet, and X-ray light. But as the light attempts to leave the galaxy, it’s blocked by the very dust that fuels the black hole. The energy has to go somewhere, so it heats up the dust, which radiates infrared or thermal energy. WISE’s telescope was built to “see” infrared light, and it revealed a humongous amount if pouring from the galaxy across billions of light years of space.
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