NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope surveyed the universe twice during its 14-month mission, generating a wealth of data in the process. Now, by sifting through that data, WISE astronomers have unveiled one of the telescope’s most impressive finds yet: 2.5 million supermassive black holes — about three times as many as have been detected by previous surveys.
“WISE has found a bonanza of black holes,” said Jet Propulsion Laboratory astronomer Daniel Stern during a teleconference yesterday afternoon (which we live-blogged — check it out here for tons of pictures and Q&A summary), “more than had been found by any previous survey.”
These aren’t your run-of-the-mill black holes. These millions of newly identified cosmic entities are all believed to be quasars — yawning reaches of spacetime, millions to billions of times more massive than our sun, that have been caught feasting away on the gas and dust that surrounds them. The matter falling into a quasar causes it to grow tremendously hot; and while they are also very bright, obscuring dust makes it difficult to observe their visible light. That’s where WISE comes in. These massively powerful black holes all but smolder in the infrared spectrum, and WISE’s sensitive instrumentation picks up on it with ease.
Also announced yesterday: a small population of never-before-seen cosmic entities: around 1,000 blazing hot, dust-obscured galaxies — or “hot DOGs,” for short.
“Hot dogs are much, much rarer” than the quasars discovered by Daniel Stern’s team, explained WISE project scientist Peter Eisenhardt at yesterday’s conference. Eisenhardt is first author on the first of two papers describing the newly discovered hot DOGs. Astronomer Jingwen Wu, lead author of the second study, was present for the announcement, as well.
According to Wu, hot DOGs are much brighter, hotter and more powerful than any galaxy we’re used to seeing. The image featured here gives a WISE-eye view of the universe, with the 1000-or-so observable hot DOGs labeled in purple. The inset is a close-up of the region of sky containing the first hot DOG ever discovered (the red point circled in purple). According to Wu, each of these galaxies is capable of generating up to 100-trillion times as much energy as our sun.
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