Ultramassive Black Holes Are Bigger, More Numerous, More Terrifying Than Previously Thought
by Rebecca Pahle | 2:45 pm, December 24th, 2012
Black holes. They destroy everything that crosses their path. They’re difficult for scientists to observe and understand. They can fling people and objects back in time, starting an alternate timeline that results in the destruction of an entire species. Wait, no, that’s the setup for Star Trek. But black holes are still really scary. And now scientists have discovered that the largest black holes in the universe are even scarier than previously thought.
Stanford University astrophysicist Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo led a team that used data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to analyze 18 of the universe’s brightest galaxy clusters, thought to be home to the biggest black holes. They found black holes larger than any discovered before: Ultramassive black holes with a mass 10-40 billion times the mass of our own sun.
And those estimates might be on the small side. Says Hlavacek-Larrondo,
“Some of our black hole mass predictions are just lower limits, so they could be higher… Just how big do I think they can get? I would bet that a least one 100-billion-solar-mass black hole exists among our objects, which really is ultra-big.”
Um. Yes. That really is ultra-big. I think they need to invent a new word for exactly how big that black hole would be. Might I recommend some variation on holycraptillion?
Hlavacek-Larrondo and company estimated the size of these ultramassive black holes by analyzing the X-rays and radio waves generated by black holes when they destroy the gas, dust, and stars that have the bad luck to come near them. The black holes they found were about 10 times larger than expected, which “may mean we don’t really understand how the very biggest black holes coexist with their host galaxies,” says Andrew Fabian of Cambridge University.
Not that any of those superhuge black holes exist in our galaxy (… I hope), but still. Superhuge black holes whose behavior we don’t understand. We just made it through one apocalypse! Give us a break, universe.