NASA telescope detects 'bonanza' of humongous black holes
NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey telescope has spotted millions of 'supermassive' black holes gorging on matter, says the space agency.
A jackpot of previously unknown black holes across the universe has been discovered by the infrared eyes of a prolific NASA sky-mapping telescope.Skip to next paragraph
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The cosmic find comes from data collected by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey (WISE) telescope, which scanned the entire sky in infrared light from December 2009 to February 2011. The full catalog of observations by WISE during its mission was publicly released in March, and astronomers are still poring through this celestrial trove for discoveries.
"WISE has found a bonanza of black holes in the universe," astronomer Daniel Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., said during a news briefing today (Aug. 29). WISE turned up about three times as many black holes as have been found by comparable surveys in visible light, offering up a total of 2.5 million new sources across the sky.
These black holes aren't the average tiny, dense objects created by the collapse of dead stars, but rather humongous "supermassive" black holes that have been caught feasting on matter falling into them. Such active black holes are known as quasars, and are some of the brightest objects in the universe, because of light released by the infalling matter. [Photos: Millions of Black Holes Seen by WISE Telescope]
"We expected that there should be this large population of hidden quasars in the universe, but WISE can now identify them across the sky," Stern said. "We think these quasars are really important for shaping how galaxies look today."
Cosmic Hot DOGs
In addition to this haul of gorging black holes, WISE has turned up a smaller population of rarer objects researchers are dubbing "hot DOGs," for hot, dust-obscured galaxies.
These galaxies are thought to be extremely bright, but appear very faint to us because their light is shrouded by dust.
"It is actually the most obscured objects in the WISE sky that are among the brightest objects in the universe," said Peter Eisenhardt, a WISE project scientist at JPL. "They're definitely a different type of beast than we’ve seen before."
The hot DOGs observed by WISE number about 1,000, and are mostly spotted from very far away, meaning they existed in the early days of the universe, because their light has taken billions of years to travel to Earth.