GMA News Online

Gigantic black hole may hold clue to the history of the universe

December 3, 2012 8:21am
Astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg, Germany found a black hole that could probably zap an entire galaxy into non-existence.

Remco van den Bosch, together with a team of astronomers from MPIA discovered a black hole 17 billion times the mass of our Sun. With a mass greater than what models predicted, it could be the most massive black hole found to date, Science Daily reported.

But whether or not it can really devour an entire galaxy is still a question astronomers have to answer.

The best-studied giant black hole lies 26,000 light years away from us, in the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. Its mass is equivalent to about four million Suns.

However, the current record holder for the most massive black hole found is estimated to be between six and 37 billion Suns. University of Michigan scientist Nichollas McConnel and his team found it in 2011.

If the true mass of this earlier black hole discovered lies toward the lower end of the range, the new one found sitting in the center of the disk galaxy NGC 1277, might be the biggest known black hole. NGC 1277, 220 million light years away, can be seen in the constellation Perseus. It still hosts the second largest black hole, at least.

But scientists are baffled by a new trend that emerged from this discovery: the direct relationship between a black hole's mass and that of the stars in the galaxy.

NGC 1277's mass amounts to at least 14 percent of the total mass of the Milky Way, instead of the usual value of around 0.1 percent.

Science Daily reported, "Astronomers would have expected a black hole of this size inside blob-like ("elliptical") galaxies ten times larger. Instead, this black hole sits inside a fairly small disk galaxy."

Van den Bosch's team also discovered five other galaxies that are small but are able to harbor super massive black holes. They do not want to come out with definite conclusions until they are able to see more detailed images of these galaxies.

If they will be able to confirm this phenomenon, then astronomers will have to review their models of galaxy evolution models and take a look at the early universe.

The galaxy hosting NGC 1277 seems to have formed more than eight billion years ago (the Milky Way is about 13.6 billion years old), give or take 800 million years, and it has not quite changed a lot since then. — DVM, GMA News
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