UT Astronomers Discover Most Massive Black Hole Yet

Astronomers out of UT’s McDonald Observatory have done it again. They’ve discovered the largest known black hole in the universe—for the third time.

Using one of the world’s largest telescopes, the Hobby-Eberly, UT astronomers have identified and measured the most massive black hole to date, which tops out at a mass of 17 billion times that of our sun.

The hole, which is located in the NGC 1277 galaxy 220 million light-years from Earth, makes up 14 percent of the galaxy’s mass—surpassing the usual .1 percent by leaps and bounds. At its heart, the black hole is more than 11 times as wide as Neptune’s orbit around the sun.

“This is a really oddball galaxy,” said UT astronomy professor Karl Gebhardt in a press release. “It’s almost all black hole. This could be the first object in a new class of galaxy-black hole systems.”

This discovery, published in the journal Nature, came out of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Massive Galaxy Survey, an initiative bent on investigating how black holes and galaxies form and grow together. This most recent breakthrough has the the potential to upend current theories of how black holes and galaxies begin and evolve.

This is just the latest of the groundbreaking research coming out of the McDonald Observatory, located near Fort Davis, Texas. Earlier this year, astronomers at the observatory played a key role in the discovery of a first-of-its-kind planetary system that formed within two suns, called Kepler-47. Last year, UT scientists had a part in the discovery of the “Goldilocks” planet, our planet’s “twin.”

UT astronomers have twice before identified what was, at that time, the largest known black hole.

Top, an image of NGC 1277 taken with the Hubble Space telescope. Inset, the diameter of the newly discovered black hole is 11 times wider than Neptune’s orbit around the sun.

Photos courtesy UT’s McDonald Observatory.


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