New Findings Suggest That Supermassive Black Holes May Be Lurking Everywhere in the Universe

April 7, 2016 | Johannes Van Zijl

Supermassive black holes
Photo credit: ESA/Hubble, STScI. Close-up taken by Hubble of the bright centre of the galaxy where a 17-billion-solar-mass black hole — or binary black hole — resides.

The most recently discovered supermassive black hole has the mass of 17 billion suns!

Astronomers at UC Berkeley have discovered a near-record supermassive black hole in scattered area of our local universe, located 200 million light-years from Earth. Until now, most supermassive black holes have been discovered in the centre of very large galaxies in crowded areas of the universe, with masses near to 10 billion times that of our sun.

Currently, the biggest supermassive black hole is located in the Coma cluster of galaxies, a gigantic patch of sky containing over 1,000 galaxies. The record-breaking black hole was discovered by astronomers at UC Berkeley in 2011 and had an unprecedented mass of close to 21 billion times that of our sun!

SEE ALSO: In a First, Scientists Witness Black Hole Consuming a Star

The latest discovery resides in a more sparse area of our local universe in a small galaxy known as NGC 1600. It’s located in the opposite part of the sky from the Coma cluster where the biggest black hole resides.

Interestingly, the stars surrounding the black hole in NGC 1600 behave rather strangely, as if the black hole were a binary system. A binary system consists of two black holes closely orbiting around each other and are common in large galaxies, since galaxies are thought to grow by merging with other galaxies, with each normally containing their own black hole, according to the astronomers at UC Berkeley.

To find supermassive black holes in massive galaxies in crowded areas of the universe is expected. Professor of astronomy, Chung-Pei Ma, who lead the massive search effort, compared it to finding a skyscraper in a Manhattan.

“Rich groups of galaxies like the Coma Cluster are very, very rare, but there are quite a few galaxy groups the size of NGC 1600 and its satellites,” Ma said in a media release. “So the question now is, ‘Is this the tip of an iceberg?’ Maybe there are a lot more monster black holes out there that don’t live in a skyscraper in Manhattan, but in a tall silo somewhere in the Midwestern plains.”

The findings are published in the April 6th issue of Nature.

We will have to wait and see what further discoveries regarding supermassive black holes will bring, but as it stands, these monster might be lurking in more ‘small towns’ of the universe than previously thought!

For the time being, if you have an interest in black holes and their workings, you can get involved in an innovative citizen science project that relies on amateur space enthusiasts to search for supermassive black holes. Find more details here.

You might also like: Hints of Second Largest Black Hole in Our Galaxy Detected

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