Black holes are the most amazing celestial objects because, in addition to breaking all the laws of physics, they can become monsters billions of times larger than the Sun.
We have never seen them directly (although in 2019 we got the first real “image”), but we know perfectly well that they are there. And ever since the possibility of their existence was raised, black holes have both amazed and terrified us.
Their existence derives from Einstein’s equations of general relativity, formulated in 1915. However, it was not until 1939 that Robert Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist, predicted that they could actually form in nature.
Since then, the more we have learned about them, the more questions have arisen. Formed from the collapse of stars much larger than the Sun, these objects are incredibly large.
In fact, they can be monsters 390 million million kilometers, 40 times the distance from the Sun to Neptune.
In today’s article, well, in addition to understanding (with the relatively little we currently know) what these objects are that absorb everything, including light, and how they are formed, we will see a top list of the most colossal black holes in the world. Universe.
What is a black hole?
A black hole is a very strange thing. But much. So much so that inside it, the laws of physics that we know stop working. In addition, the term itself does not help, since it is not really a hole.
A black hole is actually a celestial body that generates a gravitational field so strong that not even electromagnetic radiation can escape its pull. Hence, light, which is nothing more than a type of electromagnetic radiation, is also “absorbed”.
But why does this happen? Well, as we well know, absolutely all bodies with mass, depending on how big it is, will generate greater or lesser gravity. Thus, for example, the Sun has a much greater gravitational power than the Earth.
But in a black hole, this is taken to the extreme. And it is that these celestial bodies are objects of infinite density. A black hole is a singularity in space.
That is, even though what we “see” (that we don’t see) is a three-dimensional dark object, that only designates the radius in which the light can no longer escape, since it has crossed the event horizon.
This event horizon is an imaginary surface that surrounds the hole, giving it a spherical shape, in which the escape velocity, that is, the energy needed to escape its attraction, coincides with the speed of light. And since nothing can go faster than light (300,000 km/s), not even photons can escape.
But a black hole, despite the fact that this event horizon is a consequence of its existence, is, in reality, a point of infinite mass and without volume, something that, despite not making any sense to us, occurs in nature. . This point is what is called a singularity, which is a region (which is not either, because there is no volume) in the center of the hole (which is not a hole) in which all matter is destroyed and space-time of the Universe breaks.
The problem is that we cannot (and will never) know what happens beyond the event horizon, since light cannot escape from it. By not letting light escape, these celestial bodies are totally dark.
Be that as it may, we must stay with the idea that a black hole is a singularity in which space-time breaks, obtaining a point of infinite mass and no volume that is known as a singularity, which makes this body have a density that, by mathematics, is also infinite.
How and why are black holes formed?
We have all suffered in the event that a black hole formed next to the Earth and absorbed us. The point is that, as terrifying as the idea of being absorbed by a huge body is, this is totally impossible.
Black holes only form after the death of hypermassive stars. For this reason, regardless of whether or not hypothetical micro black holes exist, for now, the only black holes whose existence is confirmed by science are those that are formed after the gravitational collapse of very large stars.
So big that not even the Sun (which, compared to others, is a very small star) after dying could generate one. We are talking about hypermassive stars of at least 20 solar masses. If a star this big dies, a black hole can form.
But why does the death of a massive star cause the formation of a black hole? Well, you have to keep in mind that, during the entire life of a star (which can range from 30 million years to 200,000 million years), it wages a battle between expansion and contraction.
As we know, nuclear fusion reactions take place in the core of stars, which cause temperatures to be, in the case of the Sun, 15,000,000 °C. These incredibly high temperatures make the interior one hell of a pressure cooker that generates enormous expansion forces.
Now, in contrast to this expansion force, we must bear in mind that the star’s own gravity (we are talking about billions of quadrillion kg) contracts it, thus compensating for the expansion.
As long as its fuel lasts (it can perform nuclear fusion), the expansion and contraction will be in equilibrium. Now, when the end of their life approaches, they continue to have the same mass but the energy in their core is less, so the gravitational force begins to win over the expansion force, until a point is reached where the star collapses under its own gravity.
When this happens in stars similar in size to the Sun (it will die like this too), the gravitational collapse culminates in incredibly high condensation, giving rise to a white dwarf. This white dwarf, which is the remnant of the star’s core, is one of the densest celestial bodies in the Universe. Imagine condensing the entire mass of the Sun into a body the size of Earth. There you have a white dwarf. In theory, they also die after cooling, but there has been no time in the history of the Universe for a white dwarf to die.
Now if we increase the size of the star, things are very different. If the star has a mass between 8 and 20 times that of the Sun (such as the star Betelgeuse), the gravitational collapse, taking into account that the mass is much greater, causes a much more violent reaction: a supernova.
In this case, stellar death does not culminate in the formation of a white dwarf, but in a stellar explosion that reaches temperatures of 3 billion °C and in which enormous amounts of energy are emitted, including gamma rays that can traverse the entire galaxy. In fact, if a star in our galaxy died and generated a supernova, even being several thousand light years away, it could cause the disappearance of life on Earth.
And, finally, we come to black holes. These are formed after the gravitational collapse of stars of at least 20 times the mass of the Sun. This collapse causes all the mass to be compressed into what we have seen before: the singularity.
What are the most colossal black holes?
All black holes are very large. In fact, the “smallest” have masses of at least three times that of the Sun (remember that, in order to form, stars have to be at least 20 times heavier).
But what interests us today are the real monsters: supermassive black holes. These are the ones that are found in the center of practically all galaxies and their power of attraction is so great that it is what keeps all the stars rotating around them.
Without going any further, our galaxy has at its center a black hole known as Sagittarius A (we have not yet been able to see it). And our Sun, despite being 25,000 light-years away from it, is so incredibly large that it orbits around it at 251 km/s, completing one revolution every 200 million years.
And this black hole, despite its 44 million kilometers in diameter and having a mass 4,300,000 times that of the Sun, is not even among the 100 largest black holes in the Universe. Without a doubt, the Cosmos is an amazing place.
In this article, then, we have collected the 10 largest supermassive black holes, indicating how many solar masses their size corresponds to. To put it in perspective, keep in mind that the Sun has a mass of 1.99 x 10^30 kg, that is, 1,990 million quadrillion kg. That is, a solar mass is equal to 1,990 million quadrillion kg. And we will deal with sizes of billions of solar masses. Simply unimaginable.
10. NGC 4889: 21 billion solar masses
Discovered in 2011, the black hole NGC 4889, located in the galaxy of the same name and being at a distance of 308 million light years (despite this, it is the brightest and most visible galaxy from Earth), is 5,200 times larger than Sagittarius A, the one at the center of our galaxy.
9. APM 08279+5255: 23 billion solar masses
Naming is not going too well for astronomers. Located at the center of the AMP galaxy, an ultraluminous galaxy located at a distance of 23 billion light years, this black hole is so incredibly large that it has an accretion disk (orbiting material around it) that is more than 31 trillion light-years across. kilometers in diameter.
8. H1821+643: 30 billion solar masses
Discovered in 2014, the black hole H1821+643 is located at the center of a galaxy located 3.4 billion light-years away and has a diameter of 172 million million kilometers.
7. NGC 6166: 30 billion solar masses
The black hole NGC 6166 sits at the center of an elliptical galaxy 490 million light-years away. This galaxy is part of the galactic cluster Abell 2199, being the most luminous galaxy in a group of more than 39,000 galaxies.
6. SDSS J102325.31+514251.0: 33 billion solar masses
Little is known about this black hole. It was discovered through a space research project funded by the University of Chicago and started in 2000 with the goal of mapping a quarter of the visible sky. Along the way, they discovered one of the largest black holes ever recorded.
5.SMSS J215728.21-360215.1: 34 billion solar masses
Discovered in 2018, this black hole with an unpronounceable name (J2157-3602 to friends) is one of the largest in the Universe and, for now, the fastest growing. It is situated in the center of a galaxy 12.5 billion light-years away.
4. S5 0014+81: 40 billion solar masses
Discovered in 2009, this black hole, located in the center of an elliptical galaxy located 120 billion light years away and with a luminosity about 25,000 times greater than that of the Milky Way. This black hole annually “devours” an amount of matter equivalent to 4,000 suns.
3. IC 1101: 40 billion solar masses
This black hole, the third largest known, is at the center of the largest galaxy in the Universe (that we know of) in terms of amplitude. Located 1,000 million light years away, it has a diameter of 6 million light years (the Milky Way is 52,850 light years). It is not surprising, then, that it contains one of the most incredibly large black holes.
2. Holmberg 15A: 40 billion solar masses
This black hole is at the center of the galaxy of the same name, which is at a distance of 700 million light years from Earth. To this day there is still much controversy about its size, because, despite the fact that it has traditionally been considered to be 40 billion solar masses, some studies indicate that it could actually be 150 billion, something that would place it as the undisputed king of black holes.
1. TON 618: 66 billion solar masses
We finally come to the winner. Located in the center of a galaxy at a distance of 10 billion light years, the black hole TON 618 is, for now, the largest in the Universe. We are talking about a monster 390 million kilometers in diameter. This is 1,300 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun or, to put it another way, 40 times the size of Neptune’s orbit. As we can see, the Universe is an amazing and, at the same time, terrifying place.