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Brightest Galaxy in Universe Discovered

May 22, 2015 01:48 PM EDT

The brightest galaxy in the Universe has been discovered by scientists using data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), shining with the infrared light of more than 300 trillion suns, according to a new study.

The remote galaxy, known as WISE J224607.57-052635.0, belongs to a new class of objects recently discovered by WISE called extremely luminous infrared galaxies, or ELIRGs.

"We are looking at a very intense phase of galaxy evolution," lead author Chao-Wei Tsai of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a news release. "This dazzling light may be from the main growth spurt in the size of the galaxy's black hole."

It is typical of many galaxies to have supermassive black holes at their centers, collecting gas and material that heats up the black hole's disk to scalding temperatures. And as the dust heats up, it radiates infrared light.

The black hole at the center of WISE J224607.57-052635.0 is particularly massive - and that's eons after it first formed. Because light from the galaxy hosting the black hole has traveled 12.5 billion years to reach us, astronomers are seeing the object as it was in the past. The black hole was already billions of times the mass of our Sun when our Universe was only a tenth of its present age of 13.8 billion years.

"The massive black holes in ELIRGs could be gorging themselves on more matter for a longer period of time," explained Professor Andrew Blain, who's involved in WISE. "It's like winning a hot-dog-eating contest lasting hundreds of millions of years."

Scientists still have a ways to go in terms of understanding these luminous galaxies, but data from WISE is helping, able to view the whole sky with more sensitivity than ever before. This way it can catch rare cosmic specimens that might have been missed otherwise.

The team plans to better determine the masses of the central black holes to help reveal their history, as well as that of other galaxies in the Universe.

The results were published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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