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ANU SkyMapper Telescope
June 30, 2022

Enabling astronomers to find fastest-growing black hole in the universe

The fastest-growing black hole of the last nine billion years has been discovered by an international team led by astronomers at The Australian National University (ANU). AARNet, Australia’s national research and education network played an enabling role.

Lead researcher Dr Christopher Onken and his co-authors describe the discovery as a "very large, unexpected needle in the haystack".

"Astronomers have been hunting for objects like this for more than 50 years. They have found thousands of fainter ones, but this astonishingly bright one had slipped through unnoticed," Dr Onken said.

The black hole has the mass of three billion suns. Others of a comparable size stopped growing so quickly billions of years ago.

The discovery was made as part of the SkyMapper project.

Astronomers rely on AARNet’s high performing network for the transfer of images captured by the SkyMapper telescope at Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran in central NSW to the National Computational Infrastructure supercomputing facility at ANU in Canberra.

NCI is where the images are processed, analysed, and turned into the catalogue of objects covering the Southern sky. Astronomers, such as the ANU team who made the discovery, access these catalogues and images to answer a wide variety of scientific questions.

After the initial identification of this black hole, the team wanted to learn more about it, and used the ANU 2.3m telescope at Siding Spring Observatory (just down the hill from SkyMapper) to study the gas circling around the black hole. The 2.3m telescope has been configured to enable it to be operated remotely, with a PhD student in Melbourne controlling the telescope and collecting the data needed, which was transferred over the AARNet network to NCI.

The researchers were then able to use that data to measure the mass of the black hole to be 2.6 billion times larger than the Sun and 650 times larger than the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.

The research has been published to arXiv and submitted to Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia.

Read more about the discovery on the ANU website.

Find out more about the AARNet network.

Image credit: Australian National University.