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Is This the Biggest Black Hole Ever?

The galaxy NGC 1277, seen here in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, contains one of the biggest central supermassive black holes ever detected. Courtesy NASA/ESA/Andrew C. Fabian/Remco C. E. van den Bosch (MPIA)

A monstrous black hole—17 billion times the mass of the Sun and possibly the largest ever detected—appears to be too big for its galactic home, leaving astronomers scratching their heads about its very existence.

The cosmic behemoth, at the heart of a distant galaxy, is estimated to be 4,000 times larger than the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.  It’s officially ranked the second-largest black hole known; estimates on the current record holder span a wide range, from 6 to 37 billion solar masses.

This surprising find comes on the heels of the discovery earlier this week of the largest blast ever seen emanating from a black hole.

However it’s not the sheer size that has astronomers stumped, but the black hole’s mass in relation to its host galaxy, known as NGC 1277, some 250 million light years away in the constellation of Perseus.

The black hole makes up 14 percent of its galaxy’s mass, versus the usual 0.1 percent.

“Normally a black hole is tiny compared to the galaxy it sits in, but this one is really big, so much so that most of the stars in this galaxy probably feel the black hole’s attraction,” said Remco van den Bosch, astronomer at Germany’s Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy and lead author of the study published this week in Nature.

RETHINKING GALAXY EVOLUTION

Using the Hubble Space Telescope and the Hobby-Eberly Telescope in Fort Davis, Texas, the international team of astronomers had been on the hunt for supermassive black holes, surveying close to 800.  They were surprised to find a total of six diminutive galaxies that appear to harbor the supergiant variety.

“We set out to find the biggest black holes by targeting mostly big galaxies,” said Van den Bosch.  “Now that we have found that these crazy kind of galaxies exist, we want to know how they form and how uncommon they are.”

Van den Bosch believes that since the vast majority of black holes found at the centers of galaxies account for only about 0.1 percent of their mass, this new, unexpectedly obese type of black hole could very well overturn models of galaxy evolution.

“We have expected that galaxies and black holes co-evolve together, through some kind of self-regulation & feedback mechanism,” he said. “But now we found systems where somehow the black hole could grow without forming many stars in the galaxy.”

Jenny Greene, a Princeton University astronomer not connected to the study, agreed that the new finding will force researchers to think hard about their ideas of how supermassive black holes are connected to their parent galaxy.

“In general black holes make up a fixed fraction of the galaxy mass, suggesting that they all form in a similar way, but this observation forces us to think again about that process,” she said.

 

 

Comments

  1. kopernik2
    Earth
    November 24, 2013, 4:16 pm

    I propose that this galaxy began star production before the reionization was complete. Therefore, the scanty number of stars, due to insufficient star making matter.
    We don’t know how this system progressed. My suggestion is that the nucleus continued to segment, much like the Himiko system. Several independent galaxies evolved, and today their time, probably look like M31 or our own galaxy. These two themselves formed from the cleavage of an early universe super mass. In turn the Milky Way and Andromeda have seeded multiple globular star clusters and satellite galaxies. K

  2. Johndric Valdez
    Anchorage, Alaska
    September 1, 2013, 4:25 am

    On my list, NGC 1277 is not 2nd, it is 5th.
    Three more black holes other than NGC 4889 are significantly larger.
    1. Black hole in Phoenix Cluster, is 20 billion solar masses and is growing at a rate of 60 solar masses per year.
    2. APM 08279+5255, a quasar that holds also the largest known water source in the universe, has a 20 billion solar mass black hole.
    3. OJ 287, has the least separation of two binary black holes. The primary black hole is 18 billion solar masses.
    And there goes NGC 1277, and its 17 billion solar mass black hole.

  3. Javad
    Iran
    August 26, 2013, 2:00 pm

    I wish to being there and dead.

  4. Litivious
    Kentucky
    July 18, 2013, 6:51 am

    I think the original galaxy was long ago swallowed by that black hole and some other hapless galaxy came by and was captured by this beast and is now being eaten,hence its size now :D

  5. Kenneth A. Gilliland
    Philadelphia,Pa.
    April 8, 2013, 9:56 pm

    No need for any gods, (I see there are a lot of creationist here) its just Awe Inspiring Nature !

  6. V-man
    February 6, 2013, 6:39 pm

    I only have one thing to say: I’m glad I don’t live there.

  7. Max
    January 19, 2013, 9:00 am

    I exist at that limit beyond which you can not imagine. God the supreme command.

  8. dotun
    Milton Keynes
    January 6, 2013, 8:00 pm

    Asmeed Mohammed makes sense. Couldnt the giant black hole have resulted from mergers of galaxies over time and the resulting super massive black hole gobbling up most of the matter from the resulting merged galaxies?.

  9. Zhemuel
    Philippines
    January 4, 2013, 12:52 am

    Hail! My Supreme GOD.

  10. Orpheas
    Athens.Greece
    December 19, 2012, 10:21 am

    What about the apocalypse thing at 21/12/12.I don’t believe it.

  11. josh
    melbourne
    December 9, 2012, 5:02 am

    yes it is not the biggest black hole but one the biggest and i would love to go to space

  12. Matthew
    Denver
    December 8, 2012, 4:59 am

    What about dark matter? Maybe those areas of the universe have a lot of dark matter in them and the black holes are huge because of the unseen mass they have accumulated.

  13. mario
    longmont,co.
    December 6, 2012, 3:16 pm

    how do you put a pic. for when you comment daniel

  14. mario
    longmont,co
    December 6, 2012, 3:14 pm

    awesome really helps with my school project

  15. qwerty
    December 6, 2012, 1:36 am

    I want to go there!. :P

  16. Reid Barnes
    December 4, 2012, 1:28 pm

    A new development published in an astrophysics journal dealing with such galaxy formations may be the dawning of something previously obscured, obscured because of a misconception. Are we ready for a galaxy formation paradigm shift? Check out this FB Note:
    https://www.facebook.com/note.php?saved&&note_id=462435587142354

  17. Bob Marley
    Chicago
    December 4, 2012, 10:02 am

    @ qubitsized

    Yes, hence the statement:
    “It’s officially ranked the second-largest black hole known; estimates on the current record holder span a wide range, from 6 to 37 billion solar masses.”

    Amazing, isn’t it, however you look at it?! The specifics of these things just boggle the mind!

  18. Leanne
    December 3, 2012, 7:35 pm

    God holds the the entire universe in His HANDS! No explanation needed! I see this and do not question, but rather stand in awe of how great my God is!

  19. A.R.Barfield.
    Manchester
    December 2, 2012, 2:35 pm

    Interesting how water spins down the plughole whichever way you want it to but understanding natural eddies in rivers & $ea & space ? Any spare spaceships with their own LHC’s unused ?

  20. Haile
    USA
    December 2, 2012, 12:44 pm

    Does this give any clue about the older galaxies possibly having larger black holes because they may have grown over time? Or, is it the belief of scientists up until now that the black holes should be affixed to their 0.1%? If they indeed grow, what does it tell us about the fate of our Universe?

  21. Siddhartha Harsha
    Hyderabad
    December 1, 2012, 8:41 pm

    What are the chances of a single galaxy having multiple black holes which might merge overtime to form a gigantic black hole? What happens when two black holes meet? If they implode, then it does not explain the explosion noted above and the assumption of multiple galaxies is not true.

  22. Robert
    San Francisco, CA
    December 1, 2012, 5:46 pm

    Very interesting. I am personally a HUGE fan of astronomy myself.

  23. Andrew Fazekas
    December 1, 2012, 2:20 pm

    The lead author of the study says in the official press statement for this story…. “With a mass 17 billion times that of the Sun, the newly discovered black hole in the center of the disk galaxy NGC 1277 might even be the biggest known black hole of all: the mass of the current record holder is estimated to lie between 6 and 37 billion solar masses (McConnell et al. 2011); if the true value lies towards the lower end of that range, NGC 1277 breaks the record. At the least, NGC 1277 harbors the second-biggest known black hole.”

    source: http://www.mpia.de/Public/menu_q2e.php?Aktuelles/PR/2012/PR121128/PR_121128_en.html

  24. Anthony Bear
    Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
    December 1, 2012, 10:24 am

    It would seem to me that perhaps these Super Massive Black Holes in relatively small galaxies would be due to the black hole having already devoured a large portion of that galaxy… is that not why spiral galaxies spin? It seems to me that we are all draining toward our respective black holes, galactically speaking… well, at least that’s a Theory of mine…

  25. Daniel J.
    Orlando, FL
    December 1, 2012, 9:01 am

    Isn’t it possible that 2 galaxies with super massive black holes collided and merged into one? That would explain why it’s so large and why this galaxy doesn’t have as many stars as a “normal” galaxy.

  26. ashmeed mohammed
    trinidad, W.I.
    December 1, 2012, 7:25 am

    i find it silly that very intelligent scientists try to find a pattern with black holes and stars. break them down to their simplest bits, and u have stars forming from the coalescence of gasses and then the mass gets to be more than the volume, either by condensing matter when it gets old or absorbing more matter, it turns into a black hole.

    it seems simpler to think that if more stars or matter falls into a black hole that it would increase in mass, and generate a cycle of increasing mass increasing gravitational pulls which increases its mass. simpler than a black hole growing simultaneously with its galaxy, by some weird symbiotic arrangement of physical laws.

    simple, the larger black holes have just gobbled up more matter than the others. and for some reason of centripetal and centrifugal forces, the smaller ones have not.

  27. David Donnelly
    United States
    December 1, 2012, 2:35 am

    How do these galaxies vary from their predicted spin rate n if at all (the sigma value?) As for the evolution of these galaxies, Could they be formed in nebulae of unusual density? They do pose interesting questions and I look forward to the search for solutions and their impact on cosmology.

  28. Ashvin Srinivasan
    Bangalore
    December 1, 2012, 1:18 am

    Could there be a possibility of a black hole with such high mass density that it could actually influence the rate of stars expansion, resulting in stars moving towards the black hole, and thereby reducing the entire galaxy to the point of nothing!

  29. Jason
    54601
    December 1, 2012, 12:47 am

    The laws of physics could very well have different values in different areas of spacetime/ which could account for this although low iron,silicon,and carbon could account for some of this

  30. qubitsized
    November 30, 2012, 11:29 pm

    This is NOT the largest black hole ever observed!

    The largest black hole ever observed to date is NGC 4889, with a mass of 21 billion solar masses. Research is published on British Journal of Nature dated December 8, 2011.

    NGCC 1277 is the largest black hole observed to date relative to the size of the galaxy it inhabits!