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NASAs WISE finds universes most luminous galaxy to date

A remote galaxy shining brightly with infrared light equal to more than 300 trillion suns has been discovered using data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The galaxy, which belongs to a new class of objects recently discovered by WISE -- nicknamed extremely luminous infrared galaxies, or ELIRGs -- is the most luminous galaxy found to date.

Professor Andrew Blain from the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy has been involved with WISE since its inception in 2001, and has been responsible for examining and validating the data from the WISE telescope. He is a co-author of the new report into this discovery, which appears in The Astrophysical Journal.

The galaxy, known as WISE J224607.57-052635.0, may have a behemoth black hole at its belly, gorging itself on gas. Supermassive black holes grow by drawing gas and matter into a disk around them. The disk heats up to beyond-sizzling temperatures of millions of degrees, 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.

Immense black holes are common at the cores of galaxies, but finding one this big so far back in the cosmos is rare. 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.

More research is needed to solve this puzzle of these dazzlingly luminous galaxies. The team has plans to better determine the masses of the central black holes. Knowing these objects’ true hefts will help reveal their history, as well as that of other galaxies in this very crucial and frenzied chapter of our cosmos. 

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