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Astronomers Measure Black Hole With Mass of 17 Billion Suns

Back holes are pretty massive as a rule, but this one in galaxy NGC 1277 might be the most massive one ever measured. Astronomers at the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas have measured a super-sized black hole with a mass equal to 17 billion Suns. The black hole takes up a never-before-seen percentage of the galaxy’s total mass, and gives us all a new gold standard against which to compare a friend’s mother when telling “yo momma” jokes.

The newly measured black hole makes up 14% of the total mass of galaxy NGC 1277. That may not sound like very much until you compare it to the average percentage of total mass a black hole occupies in a galaxy — about 0.1%.

Karl Gebhardt from the University of Texas called galaxy NGC 1277 an “oddball,” saying that it was “almost all black hole. This could be the first object in a new class of galaxy-black hole systems.” It’s unusual to find such a massive black hole in lens-shaped or “lenticular” galaxies like NGC 1277, as they have primarily been discovered in larger elliptical galaxies.

The study was part of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Massive Galaxy Survey (MGS) being done at the McDonald Observatory. The purpose of the study is to look at the relationship between black holes and galaxies, which is not something astronomers have a strong grasp on. There are currently three competing explanations for the interrelation of how black holes and galaxies impact one another.

The galaxy was measured using new data from the Hobby-Eberly Telescope as well as previously taken photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope. The measurement of a mass of 17 billion Suns has a margin of error of 3 billion Suns, but what’s a few billion Suns between astronomers?

(via Phys.org, image via Hubble Space Telescope)

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