Six trillion times the mass of the sun – unbelievable!
The black hole in the nearby galaxy M87 weighs in at 6.6 billion suns, making it the local universe’s heavyweight champ. It’s big enough to swallow our solar system in one gulp.
“In terms of the largest galaxies, it really is in our backyard,” Gebhardt said. “Being so close to such a massive black hole allows us a remarkable chance to study what happens around a black hole.”
At nearly 6 trillion times the mass of the sun, M87 is the most massive galaxy in the Milky Way’s cosmic neighborhood. Astronomers expected it to host a correspondingly huge black hole, but the most commonly accepted estimates – based on measurements from the Hubble Space Telescope – found the black hole weighed just 3 billion solar masses, give or take a billion.
Most of that mass probably came from gas and stars the black hole has devoured over the millennia. But the trajectories of the stars orbiting the black hole suggest that the solo monster that exists today is the product of two smaller black holes merging into one.
It probably took a few hundred such mergers to build the beast in M87, said Caltech astronomer George Djorgovski, who was not involved in the new work. In the same press conference, Djorgovski announced 16 new black hole pairs that will probably merge in the next few million years.
Big black holes also have big event horizons, the point at which a black hole’s gravity is so great even light can’t escape. The black hole in M87’s event horizon is about 12 billion miles across, three times the size of Pluto’s orbit.
“This black hole could swallow our solar system whole,” Gebhardt said.