Found: The Most Luminous Galaxy Ever Seen - Atlas Obscura
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Found: The Most Luminous Galaxy Ever Seen


An artist’s depiction of what the galaxy might look like (Image: NASA)

The light from the galaxy WISE J224607.57-052635.0 traveled 12.5 billion light years before us humans detected it. But when scientists saw it, they determined that it was the most luminous galaxy ever found. The galaxy produces “the light of more than 300 trillion suns,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory reports—the product of “a very intense phase of galaxy evolution,” in which the supermassive black hole at the center grew and grew.

NASA’S Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer detected a number of this sort of “extremely luminous infrared galaxy.” This one is simply the most remarkable. What the scientists think happens is this: gas moves towards the central black hole, where, heated to incredible temperatures, it puts off intense light—some visible, some X-ray, some ultraviolet. But, when that light moves through the cloud of dust further from the center, it’s transformed into infrared light.

Scientists on earth have found these galaxies by looking at infrared images of the entire sky which WISE was able to capture for the first time—its sensitivity is hundreds of times greater than the infrared satellite that preceded it, and so it’s captured light emitting from celestial bodies that humans have never seen before.

Bonus finds: An unexploded bomb from WWII that Britain is strangely worked up about (possibly because it’s near a soccer stadium); 29 mysterious metal drums

Every day, we highlight one newly lost or found object, curiosity or wonder. Discover something unusual or amazing? Tell us about it! Send your finds to sarah.laskow@atlasobscura.com.