It is so colossal that it exceeds the estimated limits for black holes

The supermassive black hole of Phoenix A, the biggest known light-devouring monster

Of all the objects we know in the universe, black holes are, without a doubt, the most fascinating and surrounded by mystery.

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Black holes have gravitational fields so powerful that not even light can escape their attraction, and their event horizon is an enigmatic boundary behind which even space-time becomes distorted. It is an absolute mystery what is inside or beyond a black hole, and it is very likely that we will never know.

Artist's recreation of the light disk of a black hole (Image: NASA).

As they are objects that attract light, photographing a black hole is not easy. The first photo of a supermassive black hole was captured in 2019 by the Event Horizon telescope. In this case, the image captured showed a supermassive black hole in the elliptical galaxy Messier 87 (M87). This black hole, called M87*, would have a mass billions of times that of the Sun. Currently, through calculations and estimates based on the size of their respective galaxies, 38 are known. black holes larger than M87*.

First photo of a black hole obtained in 2019. Shows the supermassive black hole of Messier 87 (M87). (Photo: Event Horizon Telescope).

Until two years ago it was believed that the largest black hole was Tonantzintla 618 (TON 618), a hyperluminous quasar with a mass that is 40,700,000,000 times that of the Sun. In case anyone is worried about having a such a large neighbor in the universe, it should be noted that TON 618 is at a distance of 10.4 billion light years from Earth.

Until then it was believed that black holes had a mass limit of 50,000,000,000 times that of the Sun, but that has changed with the black hole of the Phoenix cluster, located 5.7 billion light years from our galaxy. This galaxy cluster, discovered in 2010 by the South Pole Telescope, is one of the largest known galaxy clusters and the one that emits the most X-rays.

Comparison of the size of the Phoenix A black hole with the largest previously known black hole, TON 618, and with the orbit of the planet Neptune. Click on the image to see it enlarged (Image: Faren29).

The central galaxy of the Phoenix cluster is Phoenix A, an elliptical galaxy in whose core there would be a supermassive black hole, Phoenix A*. This black hole would have a mass of 100,000,000,000 times that of the Sun, becoming the largest black hole known and breaking the limits of what was believed to be the mass limit of these objects. Above these lines you can see an image that compares the size of Fénix A*, TON 618 and the orbit of Neptune. The Phoenix A black hole is so huge that it could engulf the entire Solar System without blinking.

Yesterday, Global Data published a video that allows us to get a better idea the colossal size of Phoenix A*:


Main image: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Artist's recreation of a supermassive black hole with a mass equivalent to millions or billions of times the mass of the Sun.

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