If you thought your kids were big eaters, scientists have just discovered a monster black hole that devours a mass equivalent to our sun every two days.

Astronomers have been able to peer back 12 billion years into the early dark ages of the universe, when this supermassive black hole was estimated to be the size of about 20 billion suns with a 1 per cent growth rate every one million years.

"This black hole is growing so rapidly that it's shining thousands of times more brightly than an entire galaxy, due to all of the gases it sucks in daily that cause lots of friction and heat," said Dr Christian Wolf, from the Australian National University's School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

"If we had this monster sitting at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy, it would appear 10 times brighter than a full moon.


"It would appear as an incredibly bright pin-point star that would almost wash out all of the stars in the sky."

Wolf said the energy emitted from the black hole, the fastest-growing yet found and also known as a quasar, was mostly ultraviolet light but also radiated x-rays.

"Again, if this monster was at the centre of the Milky Way it would likely make life on Earth impossible with the huge amounts of x-rays emanating from it."

The discovery of the new supermassive black hole was confirmed using the spectrograph on the university's 2.3 metre telescope.

"We don't know how this one grew so large, so quickly in the early days of the Universe," Wolf said.

"The hunt is on to find even faster-growing black holes."

Wolf said as these kinds of black holes shine, they can be used as beacons to see and study the formation of elements in the early galaxies of the universe.

"Scientists can see the shadows of objects in front of the supermassive black hole," he said.


"Fast-growing supermassive black holes also help to clear the fog around them by ionising gases, which makes the universe more transparent."

When we're prejudiced - without knowing it

People can be prejudiced without realising it - something known as implicit bias. Photo / 123RF
People can be prejudiced without realising it - something known as implicit bias. Photo / 123RF

Think of a white professor at a university, who thinks himself liberal, tolerant and says it's nonsense that people can be dumber or smarter depending on their ethnicity.

And yet, this same professor acts surprised when a person of colour asks an intelligent question at his lecture, because of his intuitive impression that white students look smarter.

What this hypothetical scenario tells us is that we can actually repress certain emotions that are triggered by our negative associations when they don't match our self-image.

Consequently, we're not aware of our implicit bias.

But researchers now say we can pick up these hidden emotions, if the right circumstances are right.

Dr Beate Krickel, a philosopher at Germany's Ruhr-University Bochum, has drawn on psychoanalysis to investigate why we aren't often aware of our own prejudices - and when these deep-seated views become "unconscious".

"There's a fierce debate going on in the fields of social psychology and philosophy on whether the prejudices measured with such tests are unconscious or not," Krickel said.

The fact that people voiced liberal and tolerant convictions in spite of their implicit bias pointed to "unconscious."

However, empirical studies in the past had shown that test participants had the ability to notice their implicit bias under specific conditions.

"Interestingly enough, the participants are generally surprised or even shocked once they realise their own implicit bias."

She said this "repression" could be understood using a model based on philosophical theories of consciousness, which suggested it was the result of an "attentional shift" that had became gradually ingrained over the years - just as with the professor and his white students.

When domestic spats are bad for your health

Arguments between spouses could worsen chronic conditions, researchers say. Photo / 123RF
Arguments between spouses could worsen chronic conditions, researchers say. Photo / 123RF

A fight with a spouse may end in hurt feelings, but for those with chronic conditions like arthritis or diabetes, those arguments may have physical repercussions as well.

US researchers have found that in two groups of older individuals - one group with arthritis and one with diabetes - the patients who felt more tension with their spouse also reported worse symptoms on those days.

"It was exciting that we were able to see this association in two different data sets - two groups of people with two different diseases," said Pennsylvania State University's Professor Lynn Martire.

"The findings gave us insight into how marriage might affect health, which is important for people dealing with chronic conditions like arthritis or diabetes."

Martire said it was important to learn more about how and why symptoms of chronic disease worsen.

People with osteoarthritis in their knees who experience greater pain become disabled quicker, and people with diabetes that isn't controlled have a greater risk for developing complications.

The researchers said that while previous research has shown a connection between satisfying marriages and better health, both physically and psychologically, there had been a lack of research into how day-to-day experiences impact those with chronic illness.

"We study chronic illnesses, which usually involve daily symptoms or fluctuations in symptoms," she said.

"Other studies have looked at the quality of someone's marriage right now.

"But we wanted to drill down and examine how positive or negative interactions with your spouse affect your health from day to day."

Data from two groups of participants were used for the study. One group was comprised of 145 patients with osteoarthritis in the knee and their spouses. The other included 129 patients with type 2 diabetes and their spouses.

Participants in both groups kept daily diaries about their mood, how severe their symptoms were, and whether their interactions with their spouse were positive or negative.

The participants in the arthritis and diabetes groups kept their diaries for 22 and 24 days, respectively.

The researchers found that within both groups of participants, patients were in a worse mood on days when they felt more tension than usual with their spouse, which in turn led to greater pain or severity of symptoms.

Additionally, the researchers found that within the group with arthritis, the severity of the patient's pain also had an effect on tensions with their spouse the following day.

When they had greater pain, they were in a worse mood and had greater tension with their partner the next day.

"This almost starts to suggest a cycle where your marital interactions are more tense, you feel like your symptoms are more severe, and the next day you have more marital tension again," Martire said.

"We didn't find this effect in the participants with diabetes, which may just be due to differences in the two diseases."

Martire said the results could potentially help create interventions targeted at helping couples with chronic diseases.