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Scientists discover black hole with a mass of 14 billion suns

Astronomers have discovered a ginormous black hole in a galaxy 220 million light years away that could change our understanding of how galaxies evolve.

The black hole has a mass of 14 billion suns and lies at the centre of a lens-shaped galaxy, called NGC1277 in the constellation Perseus. It makes up 14 per cent of the galaxy’s mass. Other black holes normally make up 0.1 percent of its home galaxy’s mass.

“This is a really oddball galaxy. It’s almost all black hole,” said Dr Karl Gebhardt, the lead scientist from the University of Texas at Austin.

Using a telescope at UT’s McDonald Observatory, astronomers discovered this black hole more than a year and a half ago. It is 11 times wider than Neptune’s orbit around the sun.

A black hole is formed when a giant star collapses on itself at the end of its life cycle.

“At the moment there are three completely different mechanisms that all claim to explain the link between black hole mass and host galaxies’ properties. We do not understand yet which of these theories is best,” said lead author Remco van den Bosch, who began this work while holding the W. J. McDonald postdoctoral fellowship at The University of Texas at Austin. He is now at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany.

The problem is lack of data. Astronomers know the mass of fewer than 100 black holes in galaxies. But measuring black hole masses is difficult and time-consuming. So the team developed the HET Massive Galaxy Survey to winnow down the number of galaxies that would be interesting to follow up on.

Though still ongoing, the team has studied 700 of their 800 galaxies with HET.

“This study is only possible with HET. The telescope works best when the galaxies are spread all across the sky. This is exactly what HET was designed for,” Gebhardt said.

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