Every spiral galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its centre, so they're no big deal, right? Wrong: scientists have just discovered the biggest ever black hole, which weighs 17 billion times as much as our sun — and it throws previous thinking about the evolution of our universe into question.
Discovered using the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at the McDonald Observatory, the NGC 1277 black hole beats all records. Not only does it weigh 17 billion times as much as the sun, it's also eleven times bigger than the diameter of Neptune's orbit.
Let's put that another way: it takes light 17 minutes to travel the diameter of Earth's orbit. In comparison, it takes light 4 days to travel the diameter of this black hole. This thing is off the scale.
So off the scale that it's got scientists scratching their heads. Karl Gebhardt, one of the researchers behind the discovery, explains:
"The mass of this black hole is much higher than expected... it leads us to think that very massive galaxies have a different physical process in how their black holes grow."
It throws some of the existing theory about formation and growth of black holes — and therefore the fundamental dynamics of the universe — out of the window. Back to the books, physicists. [McDonald Observatory via Universe Today]
Image: D. Benningfield/K. Gebhardt/StarDate