Astronomers Discover the Most Luminous Galaxy in the Universe

Posted on May 25, 2015

WISE J224607.57-052635.0

Astronomers using NASA's WISE spacecraft have discovered the most luminous galaxy found to date. The remote galaxy, called WISE J224607.57-052635.0, is located 12.5 billion light-years from Earth. It shines with the light of over 300 trillion suns. The galaxy belongs in a class of extremely luminous infrared galaxies, called ELIRGS.

A hi-res version of the artist's concept above can be found here. Astronomers suspect the galaxy has a behemoth black hole at its center which is gorging on gas. The black hole blasts out visible, ultraviolet and X-ray light as the gas is dragged toward it.

NASA says, "The dust swaddling the galaxy absorbs this light and heats up, radiating longer-wavelength, infrared light. The dust also blocks our view of shorter, visible-light wavelengths, while letting longer-wavelengths through. This is similar to what happens when sunlight streams through our dusty atmosphere, producing a brilliant red sunrise."

NASA says it rare to find an immense black hole so far back in the cosmos. NASA says one theory about supermassive black holes in ELIRGs is that they were simply "born big."

Peter Eisenhardt, project scientist for WISE at JPL and a co-author on the paper, says, "How do you get an elephant? One way is start with a baby elephant."

Another theory on black hole size involves the Eddington limit, which has to do with the theoretical limit of black hole feeding. If a black hole is able to break this limit than it can rapidly expand in size. A black hole may also be able to consume more matter if its spins slowly enough.

Andrew Blain of University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, a co-author of the paper, says, "The massive black holes in ELIRGs could be gorging themselves on more matter for a longer period of time. It's like winning a hot-dog-eating contest lasting hundreds of millions of years."

A research paper on the extremely luminous galaxy can be found here in the journal, The Astrophysical Journal. NASA JPL's Chao-Wei Tsai is the lead author of the paper.

Artist's Concept: NASA JPL