WISE finds a bounty of black holes

Credit: NASA/JPL

Given all the excitement generated by a big NASA/JPL success story like the landing of MSL/Curiosity earlier this month, one could be forgiven for not having heard of some other stunning success stories in recent space exploration. This one caught my eye today. NASA/JPL’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission has been quietly photographing the universe since its launch in December of 2009. The infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum is a stunningly useful and important area, giving WISE an unusually broad mission. It has assisted in the search for asteroids within our own solar system, and is invaluable for studying the most distant of galaxies.

The news release that just caught my eye is here:

In one study, astronomers used WISE to identify about 2.5 million actively feeding supermassive black holes across the full sky, stretching back to distances more than 10 billion light-years away. About two-thirds of these objects never had been detected before because dust blocks their visible light. WISE easily sees these monsters because their powerful, accreting black holes warm the dust, causing it to glow in infrared light.

You read that right: 2.5 million actively feeding supermassive black holes, most of which had never been observed before. Daniel Stern of JPL quipped “We’ve got the black holes cornered.” Stern is lead author of a paper just published on these and other WISE results.

Incredibly cool stuff. More on WISE here, here and here.


About John Rummel

Amateur astronomer and photographer. Observer of the universe.
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