Using a phenomenon called gravitational lensing and supercomputer simulations, a team of astronomers led by Durham University, UK, has discovered one of the largest black holes ever found. This ultramassive black hole has more than 30 billion times the mass of our sun.
The team has discovered this first black hole in a foreground galaxy, using a method that mimics light traveling through the universe countless times. The mass of the black hole in each simulation varies, changing the path of light to Earth. The team made the simulations at the DiRAC HPC facility. This allows them to determine how light is deflected by a black hole in a galaxy hundreds of millions of light years from Earth.
The path taken by the light from the distant galaxy to reach Earth when the researchers incorporated an ultramassive black hole into one of their simulations matched the path shown in actual images collected by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Lead author Dr. James Nightingale, Department of Physics, Durham University, said: “This particular black hole, which is roughly 30 billion times the mass of our sun, is one of the largest ever detected and is at the upper limit of how big we think black holes can theoretically get, so it’s a fascinating discovery. “
The research, which also involves the Max Planck Institute in Germany, raises the intriguing possibility that astronomers will find many more inactive, ultramassive black holes than previously believed and be able to study how they evolved to become so large. .
- James Nightingale et al, Abell 1201: Detection of an ultramassive black hole in a strong gravitational lens, Royal Astronomical Society Monthly Notices (2023). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/city587