Astronomers have discovered a super-massive black hole with the weight of 17 billion suns in the NGC 1600 galaxy, 200 million light-years from the Milky Way.
It’s not the biggest black hole ever discovered—the reigning champion weighs 21 billion suns—but its location, in a sparsely populated galaxy, makes it a maverick among black holes.
“It’s a bit like finding a skyscraper in a Kansas wheat field, rather than in Manhattan,” Chung-Pei Ma said in a statement. Ma led the international team that discovered the black hole.
“We expect to find gigantic black holes in massive galaxies in a crowded region of the universe, where frequent galaxy collisions and cannibalism sustain the black holes’ insatiable appetite and allow them to grow to excess. But to find one in relative isolation indicates that the black hole has long-ago tapped its sources of matter that allowed it to grow.”
In the top image, the left side shows the densely packed Coma galaxy, home to the largest known black hole in the universe, and the right side shows the NGC 1600 galaxy.
Scientists have floated the possibility that the NGC 1600 black hole took an alternative path of formation, growing larger not from swallowing up the surrounding galaxy, but from merging with other black holes.
The discovery of the black hole in the NGC 1600 galaxy has raised the hopes of researchers in finding black holes in other places where they might not be expecting it.
“Maybe there are many more monster black holes that don’t live in an obvious skyscraper in Manhattan,” Ma said.
The discovery was made using the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph, a 26-foot telescope on the dormant volcano Maunakea, in Hawaii, as well as the Mitchell Integral Field Spectrograph and the Hubble Space Telescope.