NASA has seen the most luminous galaxy ever discovered using its Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope. The remote galaxy glows with enough light to rival 300 trillion suns.
The galaxy, called WISE J224607.57-052635.0, is among the class of "extremely luminous infrared galaxies," (ELIRG). NASA posits that a massive black hole at its core may be the source of its dazzling shine. Since it was launched in December 2009 WISE has detected 20 such galaxies as part of its mission to track down distant, hard-to-find objects in space using infrared light to survey the entire sky.
"Supermassive black holes draw gas and matter into a disk around them, heating the disk to roaring temperatures of millions of degrees and blasting out high-energy, visible, ultraviolet, and X-ray light. The light is blocked by surrounding cocoons of dust. As the dust heats up, it radiates infrared light." spokesperson for NASA said in a recent statement.
This super-luminous galaxy cannot be seen with optical telescopes because it is swaddled in cosmic dust, but when that dust heats up enough it radiates infrared light, making it visible to the WISE telescope.
The light from the super-bright galaxy has traveled 12.5 billion years to be seen by us, NASA points out that astronomers are seeing the object as it was in the distant past-when our universe was only one-tenth of its current age. At that time the black hole at the core of the ELIRG was already billions of times the mass of our sun.
Scientists now want to find out how this supermassive black hole managed to come about. Researchers have proposed two leading theories. One is that the ELIRG's black hole may have started out enormous; the other is that it may spin very slowly, enabling it to suck in more gas than others that spin more quickly.
The researchers published their findings under the title, "The Most Luminous Galaxies Discovered by WISE," in the May 22 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.