One of the largest black holes known to man has been discovered.
The giant astronomers believe it is 30 billion times the mass of our Sun and 8,000 times the size of the Sagittarius black hole at the heart of the Milky Way.
Experts said the ‘extremely exciting’ discovery was made possible by a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing – the first time a black hole has been observed in this way.
This occurs when a foreground galaxy bends light from a distant object and magnifies it.
This technique allowed the Durham University researchers to closely examine the supermassive black hole In the heart of a galaxy hundreds of millions of light-years away from Earth.
Massive: One of the largest black holes known to man has been discovered. It’s so gigantic that the object (shown in an artist’s impression) is more than 30 billion times the mass of our Sun
New technology: The ‘extremely exciting’ discovery is made possible by a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing – the first time a black hole has been observed in this way, experts said.
Black holes are regions of space-time where gravity pulls so much that light cannot escape.
What is gravitational lens?
A gravitational reversal occurs when a massive galaxy or group of galaxies bends light from a more distant galaxy.
This forms a very enlarged image, although it distorts it a lot.
This is because massive objects bend space-time around them, causing light to travel a different path.
This theory was first proposed by Einstein in his theory of general relativity.
They act as gravitational condensers that crush the surrounding dust and gas.
Lead author Dr James Nightingale said: ‘This particular black hole, with a mass of about 30 billion times the mass of our sun, is one of the largest ever discovered and is on the upper limit of how massive black holes are in theory, so it’s a very exciting discovery.
By comparison, quasar TON 618 is powered by the largest black hole in the known universe and has a mass of 66 billion times that of the Sun.
Meanwhile, Sagittarius A* is located at the galactic center in our Milky Way and has a mass of 4.1 million times our Sun – only a fraction by comparison.
The new discovery opens up the tantalizing possibility of finding much more inactive, supermassive black holes than astronomers previously thought existed, which in turn will allow them to try to understand how they grew so massive.
Dr Nightingale said: ‘Most of the largest black holes we know of are in an active state, where matter being pulled near the black hole heats up and releases energy in the form of light, X-rays and other radiation.
The researchers made their discovery after simulating light traveling through the universe hundreds of thousands of times. Each simulation involved a black hole of a different mass, which altered the light’s journey to Earth
Gravitational lensing occurs when a foreground galaxy bends and magnifies light from a distant object
However, gravitational lensing makes it possible to study inactive black holes, which is not currently possible in distant galaxies.
This approach could allow us to discover many more black holes outside our local universe and reveal how these exotic objects evolved back in cosmic time.
The researchers made their discovery by using a supercomputer to simulate light traveling through the universe hundreds of thousands of times.
Each simulation involved a black hole of a different mass that could alter light’s journey to Earth.
When the researchers included a supermassive black hole in one of their simulations, the path that light from the distant galaxy took to reach Earth matched the path seen in real images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
The team hopes that this is the first step in enabling a deeper exploration of the mysteries of black holes, and that future large-scale telescopes will help astronomers study distant black holes to learn more about their magnitude and size.
Black holes are often described as “destructive beasts” because they tear apart stars, consume anything that gets too close, and trap light.
When the researchers included a supermassive black hole in one of their simulations, the path light took from the distant galaxy to reach Earth matched the path seen in real images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope (pictured).
Most, if not all, galaxies have monstrous black holes at their cores, including our own Milky Way.
When galaxies merge, their black holes ‘sink’ into the middle of the newly formed galaxy and eventually join together to form an even more massive black hole.
As black holes spiral toward each other, they increasingly disturb the fabric of space and time, sending out gravitational waves, which were first predicted by Albert Einstein over 100 years ago.
Experts say the largest black holes have emerged as “an integral part of models of galaxy formation and evolution.”
The research has been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Five black hole theories that will blow your mind
Black holes are among the most controversial objects in the universe.
They’ve captured the public’s imagination for decades, thanks in part to the late Stephen Hawking, who transformed them from a hard-to-understand scientific theory into a source of mystical wonder.
Mysterious: Black holes are among the most fascinating and hotly debated objects in the universe (stock image)
They’ve also infiltrated popular culture through science fiction, Star Trek, and Hollywood magazines.
But what are the five most bizarre and captivating theories about black holes that are so incomprehensible that it boggles the mind?
Here MailOnline takes a look.