A black hole the size of three billion suns has been discovered by an international team of astronomers at the Australian National University.

It is the fastest growing black hole of the last nine billion years, according to lead researcher Christopher Onken.

Others of a comparable size stopped growing so quickly billions of years ago.

Described as a “very large, unexpected needle in the haystack” by Dr Onken and his co-authors, the black hole consumes the equivalent of one Earth every second.

It also shines 7000 times brighter than all the light from our own galaxy, making it visible to backyard astronomers with a decent telescope.

“Astronomers have been hunting for objects like this for more than 50 years,” Dr Onken said.

“They have found thousands of fainter ones, but this astonishingly bright one had slipped through unnoticed.”

It could be the only one of it’s size, according to co-author associate professor Christian Wolf.

“This black hole is such an outlier that while you should never say never, I don’t believe we will find another one like this,” he said.

The discovery was made as part of the SkyMapper project – that aims to produce a digital record of the entire southern sky for Australian astronomers.

Melissa Meehan
(Australian Associated Press)