The supermassive gravity well, with a mass of one to three billion suns, lurks at the core of a quasar—a class of extremely bright and energetic galaxies—dubbed SDSS J1106 1939. (See "Black Hole Blasts Superheated Early Universe.")
"We discovered the most energetic quasar outflow ever seen, at least five times more powerful than any that have been observed to date," said Nahum Arav, an astronomer at Virginia Tech and co-author of the study to be published in The Astrophysical Journal.
Using the powerful telescopes of the European Southern Observatory in Chile, Arav and his team were able to clock the speed and other properties of the outflow.
Belching out material as much as 400 times the weight of our sun every year, the blast is located nearly a thousand light-years from the quasar and has a velocity of roughly 18 million miles (29 million kilometers) per hour.
"We were hoping to see something like this, but the sheer power of this outflow still took us by surprise," said Arav.
The central black hole in this quasar is true giant dynamo. It's estimated to be upward of a thousand times more massive than the one in the Milky Way, producing energy at rates about a hundred times higher than the total power output of our galaxy. (See black hole pictures.)