NASA’s WISE Uncovers Most Luminous Galaxy In Universe

By James Anderson •  Updated: 05/22/15 •  3 min read

NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer has discovered a far-away galaxy that is shining with the light of more than 300 trillion suns. The galaxy is the most luminous galaxy ever found. Known as WISE J224607.57-052635.0, it belongs to a new class of objects recently discovered by WISE, dubbed Extremely Luminous Infrared Galaxies, or ELIRGs.

According to Chao-Wei Tsai of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, lead author of a new report:

“We are looking at a very intense phase of galaxy evolution. This dazzling light may be from the main growth spurt of the galaxy’s black hole.”

The dazzling galaxy could have a giant black hole at its center, stuffing itself on gas.


WISE J22460757-0526350

This artist’s concept depicts the current record holder for the most luminous galaxy in the universe. The galaxy, named WISE J224607.57-052635.0, is erupting with light equal to more than 300 trillion suns. It was discovered by NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The galaxy is smaller than the Milky Way, yet puts out 10,000 times more energy.
Credit: NASA

Supermassive black holes gather matter and gas into a disk around them. The disk is heated to blazing temperatures of millions of degrees, blasting out high-energy, visible, ultraviolet, and X-ray light.

The light is blocked by surrounding clouds of dust, which radiates infrared light as the dust heats up.

Billions of Times the Mass of Our Sun

Behemoth black holes are common at the cores of galaxies. But finding one this big that is so far back in the cosmos is rare.

Since light from the galaxy hosting the black hole has travelled 12.5 billion years to reach us, astronomers are seeing the object as it was in the distant past. This 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. It’s like winning a hot-dog-eating contest lasting hundreds of millions of years,”

said co-author Andrew Blain of University of Leicester.

If a black hole rotates at a slow enough speed, it won’t repel its food as much. In the end, a slow-spinning black hole can consume more matter than a fast spinner.

Data from WISE has been revealing more of these weird galaxies in infrared images of the entire sky captured in 2010. By observing the whole sky with more sensitivity than ever before, WISE has allowed us to catch rare cosmic specimens that might have been missed otherwise.

The new study details a total of 20 new ELIRGs, including the most luminous galaxy found to date. These galaxies were never seen earlier because of their distance, and also because dust converts their powerful visible light into an incredible outpouring of infrared light.

Original study: The Most Luminous Galaxies Discovered by WISE