Discovery of an «ultra-massive» black hole with a mass 30 billion times that of the Sun
A team of physicists at Durham University in the United Kingdom has discovered an «ultra-massive» black hole at the center of a galaxy called Abell 1201 BCG, located about 2.7 billion light-years from Earth. With a mass 30 billion times that of the Sun, this black hole is one of the largest ever detected and is near the «upper limit» of the mass that such objects can reach.
They were able to find it thanks to gravitational lenses.
The researchers were able to find it thanks to gravitational lensing, a phenomenon that allows astronomers to see distant objects that would otherwise be too faint or obscured by massive foreground objects.
Scientists may detect inactive black holes in distant galaxies
By analyzing how the black hole’s gravity distorted the light from a distant galaxy as it passed through it, scientists were able to assess its mass and confirm its existence. This discovery could open the door to many more and allow scientists to detect inactive black holes in distant galaxies.
In the center of the galaxy Abell 1201 BCG
The black hole is located at the center of the galaxy Abell 1201 BCG, located about 2.7 billion light-years from Earth. This distance is equivalent to about 100,000 times the distance between Earth and the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
An arduous task of analysis
To make this discovery, the researchers undertook an arduous task of analysis, using hundreds of thousands of computer simulations. Their goal was to study the effect that black holes of different masses might have on light traveling toward Earth from a distant galaxy. Finally, one of these simulations produced an image that matched real images of the galaxy Abell 1201 BCG, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.
30 billion times the mass of our Sun
James Nightingale, a Durham physicist and lead author of the study, published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, said: «This particular black hole, which is about 30 billion times the mass of our Sun, is one of the largest ever detected and is at the upper limit of what we think black holes can theoretically become, so this is an extremely exciting discovery».
Stellar black holes, the most common ones
Stellar black holes are the most common type of black hole known. These holes form when a massive star reaches the end of its life and no longer has fuel to burn. Because the star cannot withstand the enormous pressure of gravity, it begins to collapse in on itself. If the original star was massive enough, the collapse will squeeze its atoms tighter and tighter together to create a very small, superdense object. This object is so dense that its gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape from it. Nasa describes this object as a star ten times more massive than the Sun, compressed into a sphere the size of New York City.