Astronomers have discovered an ‘ultra-massive’ black hole that is one of the largest dark monsters ever seen in the universe.
The monster has a mass 40 billion times greater than our sun and is lurking at the centre of a galaxy called Holmberg 15A.
It is so big that it would be able to eat the entire solar system, including Earth and all its fleshy residents.
Although the hole’s existence has been mooted before, the new study is the first to prove its existence by analysing the movements of stars around it.
‘This is the most massive black hole with a direct… detection in the local universe,’ the team wrote.
The beast of Holmberg 15A (which is also called Holm 15A) is likely to be truly gargantuan.
A similarly-sized hole called S5 0014+81 has a diameter of 236.7 billion kilometres – which is about 40 times bigger than the distance at which Pluto orbits from the sun.
This makes it ‘ultra massive’ rather than simply ‘supermassive’, which is the name for the dark leviathans which are often found at the centre of galaxies.
Now, you might think that a bigger black hole is scarier than a little one.
But you’d probably survive for longer if you plunged into a supermassive hole than a small ‘stellar-sized’ beast with a mass comparable to our sun’s.
It’s believed the ‘tidal forces’ are lower at the event horizon (the point of no return) of a supermassive hole than they are at within a smaller hole.
This means an unlucky astronaut might be able to eke out their existence until they plunge beyond the event horizon – whereas a tinier monster would rip them apart much sooner.
Anything that falls into a black hole undergoes a process called spaghettification in which they are stretched into a long, thin shape resembling a piece of spaghetti.
Sadly, although you might theoretically take a little longer to succumb to this grim fate if you decided to jump into an ultramassive or supermassive black hole, it’s likely the radiation and other deadly forces will kill you stone dead long before you get turned into a great cosmic space noodle.
If you find yourself in the clutches of a supermassive black hole, there’s really nothing you can do but sit wait back and await your doom.
The gravitational pull of these behemoths is so enormous that not even light can escape – which is why we can’t just look into the night sky and ‘see’ one.
But scientists recently discovered a star which was lucky enough to ‘escape’ the clutches of the dark monster lurking at the heart of the Milky Way, humanity’s home galaxy.
The news was revealed in a paper discussing the discovery of a prodigal sun named S5-HVS1 that’s zooming along at ‘extreme’ speeds of almost four million miles per hour.
Researchers analysed its path to discover that the star has probably spent the past 4.8 million years on a lonely journey through space after it was ‘kicked away’ from Sagittarius A*, the name of our galaxy’s supermassive black hole.
This ‘serendipitous discovery’ was made during a project called the Southern Stellar Stream Spectroscopic Survey.
The stargazers said their data proved the runaway star ‘can be unambiguously traced back to the Galactic Centre’.
They also put forward a theory suggesting the star was part of a ‘binary star’, which means two suns locked in orbit around each other, and was booted out of this system while interacting with Sagittarius A*,
The paper is called ‘The Great Escape: Discovery of a nearby 1700 km/s star ejected from the Milky Way by Sgr A*’.
Nasa recently announced that it knows why the Milky Way’s dark colossus is relatively quiet compared to its greedy cousins in other galaxies.
Sagittarius A* is lurking about 25,640 light-years away from Earth – which is great because this means it’s more or less certain to never eat our planet.
Research from Nasa has explained why the cosmic colossus does not appear to be as ravenous as more ‘active’ black holes, which feast on anything nearby and then emit huge burps of high energy radiation.
Astronomers used the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) to examine the magnetic fields around Sagittarius A*.
They found that the field ‘channels’ the gas surrounding the hole into orbit around it.
If magnetic forces steered the gas into the monster, it would become ‘active’.
‘The spiral shape of the magnetic field channels the gas into an orbit around the black hole,’ said Darren Dowell, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
‘This could explain why our black hole is quiet while others are active.’