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NASA telescope detects 'bonanza' of humongous black holes

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey telescope has spotted millions of 'supermassive' black holes gorging on matter, says the space agency. 

Image

This zoomed-in view of a portion of the all-sky survey from WISE shows a collection of quasar candidates.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/STScI

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A jackpot of previously unknown black holes across the universe has been discovered by the infrared eyes of a prolific NASA sky-mapping telescope.

The cosmic find comes from data collected by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey (WISE) telescope, which scanned the entire sky in infrared light from December 2009 to February 2011. The full catalog of observations by WISE during its mission was publicly released in March, and astronomers are still poring through this celestrial trove for discoveries.

"WISE has found a bonanza of black holes in the universe," astronomer Daniel Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., said during a news briefing today (Aug. 29). WISE turned up about three times as many black holes as have been found by comparable surveys in visible light, offering up a total of 2.5 million new sources across the sky.

These black holes aren't the average tiny, dense objects created by the collapse of dead stars, but rather humongous "supermassive" black holes that have been caught feasting on matter falling into them. Such active black holes are known as quasars, and are some of the brightest objects in the universe, because of light released by the infalling matter. [Photos: Millions of Black Holes Seen by WISE Telescope]

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