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Extreme Universe: Biggest Black Hole! December 26, 2008

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, Black Holes, Extreme Universe.
Tags: ,

In keeping with the end of the year theme of the blog “Extremes in the Universe”. The day after Christmas, an irresistible pull… a point of no return… no we’re not talking about your holiday credit card bill or the after Christmas sales. We are talking black holes.

The heavyweight champion of the year, and at 18 billion solar masses, the largest known black hole in the universe was discovered in January of this year. The biggest black hole beats out its nearest competitor, the black hole in the heart of M87, by a factor of six.


Located in the heart of a quasar called OJ287, it’s at a distance of 3.5 billion light years .

Just like other champions, it had some help. In order to measure the black hole’s mass you need an object orbiting it. A smaller black hole, which weighs about 100 million Solar masses, orbits the larger one on an eccentric path every 12 years. It comes close enough to fly through the disc of matter around the larger black hole twice each orbit, causing a pair of outbursts, coming and going, that make OJ287 suddenly brighten.

General relativity predicts that the smaller hole’s orbit itself should precess over time. This effect  is seen in Mercury’s orbit around the Sun, on a much smaller scale.

In the case of OJ287, the immense gravitational field of the larger black hole causes the smaller black hole’s orbit to precess at an  39° each orbit! The precession changes the timing of when the smaller hole punches through the disc surrounding its larger companion.

About a dozen of the resulting bright outbursts have been observed to date, and astronomers led by Mauri Valtonen of Tuorla Observatory in Finland have analysed them to measure the precession rate of the smaller hole’s orbit. That, along with the period of the orbit, suggests the larger black hole weighs a record 18 billion Suns.

The most recent outburst occurred on 13 September 2007, as predicted by general relativity. “If there was no orbital decay, the outburst would have been 20 days later than when it actually happened,” Valtonen told New Scientist, adding that the black holes are on track to merge within 10,000 years, due to orbital decay caused by gravitational radiation.

Craig Wheeler, of the U of Texas, says the observations of the outbursts fit closely with the expectations from general relativity. “The fact that you can fit Einstein’s theory [so well] … is telling you that that’s working,” he says.



1. joseph - March 27, 2009

this is the coolest thing eva

rtyrtyrty - December 7, 2009

You mean “ever” right?…

2. shane - April 21, 2009

it is scary if you think about it. what is on the other side of the black hole?

3. sterling - April 22, 2009

wow what a cool thing

4. Hayley - May 7, 2009

nothing it would be in the middle of a black no where if you went inside and survived…

5. Haylee - May 10, 2009

What if wormholes were real? What if they lead you to other galaxies? That is if you didn’t get ripped apart when you passed the horizon of the blackhole… 😦

6. Bradlecat - May 17, 2009

Is that an actual photograph? I hope so, cause it’s super rad.

jcconwell - May 17, 2009

Nope! It’s an artists representation. In reality the cloud around the hole would form a rotating disk, like water going down a drain.

7. David - May 29, 2009

You wouldn’t get ripped apart…. for the smallest black hole, 3.8 solar masses it would probably turn you into something like spaghetti for this kind of 18 billion solar masses you would either get vaporized by the heat produced by it or will get crushed into something very tiny.

Zac - March 18, 2010

actually david is correct you would turn into something that looked like spaghetti, then you would be chopped up like you were a carrot. All within a trillionth of a second it other words you would be very… very dead.

8. R.RADHAKRISHNAN - June 5, 2009

wow. God is great

9. georges - August 8, 2009

Where do black holes come from?

jcconwell - August 8, 2009

Black holes come in two varieties. Solar mass black holes are created in the death of VERY large stars. Stars that are larger than 8 Solar masses end their life as core-collapse supernova. Most of the time the remnant is a neutron star, but if the initial mass of the star is a lot bigger , think 50 solar masses than it creates a black hole.

The second type of black hole is that found in the cores of most galaxies. These supermassive black holes are more than a million solar masses. The link between a formation of the host galaxy and its supermassive hole is an area of active research.

Zac - March 18, 2010

i link that it get to about 1/1000 of the galaxy it is in. That may seem small but to us astronomers it is very large. considering the fact that the galaxy may be hundreds of thousands of light years in length.

astro jetson - June 16, 2011

it doesnt even have to be 50 solar masses

10. B N Sreenath - August 31, 2009

what is the maximum energy,observed so far,carried by a single particle (say,photon or an elementary particle) ?

jcconwell - August 31, 2009

The most extreme energy particle was a Ultra-high energy cosmic ray. It was observed on the evening of 15 October 1991 over Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah. Its observation was a shock to astrophysicists, who estimated its energy to be approximately 3 × 10^20 electronvolts (50 joules)—in other words, a subatomic particle with macroscopic kinetic energy equal to that of a baseball (142 g or 5 ounces) traveling at 96 km/h (60 mph).

11. Steve - September 5, 2009

It’s scary to think that these monsters (although their movement through space is the same as if it were still a star) actually travel through our galaxy.

A black hole with the mass of 18 billion suns would be hundreds of millions of miles across in diameter, if it were parked next to our solar system it would be about 2-3 times longer.

Not forgetting that equally deadly (but would not look as scary) normal black holes from dead stars (50 suns or bigger) next to our sun would look tiny. So for a blackhole to be bigger than our entire solar system is truly the most awsome but also the most horrifying thing humans could ever comprehend. A gigantic void in space/time with truly unlimited destructive power.

12. Steve (again) - September 5, 2009


Please feel free to right any wrongs there. And not to scare anyone reading this, i need to clarify that 18 billion solar mass black holes aren’t just hurtling through our galaxy (as rare as they may or may not be)

Smaller solar mass black holes DO travel through our galaxy, but the nearest is 5000 light years away or 29,393,126,865,91,803.6 Miles. …To put that figure in words….

( 29 quadrillion, 393 trillion, 126 billion, 865 million, 91 thousand, 803.6 hundred miles) We should thank our lucky stars that we may never face one of these entities.

But, given the size of the universe (although i hope it has never happened) a black of whatever it’s size probably has wiped out an entire inhabited planet or even solar system. The terror would be unimagineable. Does anyone else think this has happened somewhere in the universe?

13. Steve - September 5, 2009

Hi all, that’s a scary prospect, a super massive black hole with infinite power beefed up with 18 billion solar masses (as if the ones catagorized as just “black holes” wasn’t worse enough) Isn’t there a law of physics that surely must govern how big these giants can be?

The sheer forces required to make such monsters, not to mention the effect they have on the very fabric of space/time itself.
These monsters must rip through and beyond the fabric of existance in our universe, so how deep do they tear? Do they rip into what lies outside our universe? Does it go beyond and into another universe?

Imagine if you will, we scale this 18 billion solar mass to the size of a CD. Now we get a very long measuring device, and place it inside. How far has the piece of measuring apparatus inside actually travelled? Take our atmosphere, it’s our protective layer.
But does space/time act as a protective layer on a universal scale for all existance in our universe? What happens when that is compromised?
The laws of physics could be different in another universe which may have an effect similar to anti-matter. (provided ofcourse the multi-verse theory is true)

If this 18 billion solar mass monster ever merged with another similar sized black hole could space/time maintain the upkeep of such tremendous force?
Everything has a breaking point or an end, how much more can space/time tolerate before it gives way? And IF it does, could that be what caused the big bang?

As crazy as my questions may be, lets not forget that if a black hole can effect space/time (as they already do) whats to say that this is a sign that maybe space/time fabric does have a stretching point or boundary?

14. matt - September 14, 2009

The thought of anything that… massive isn’t the right word for it… titanic, hurtling through our universe with literally unlimited destructive power makes me wish we never discovered them in the first place.

15. matt - September 14, 2009

wouldn’t it be terrifying if there was 100 quadrillion solar mass black hole at the center of the universe?

16. Kaushik - September 20, 2009

I would like you give the information weather the black holes would swallow the earth. Please let me know through e-mail.

17. Rheanna M Fsher - October 8, 2009

OMG im on a website! That is SO cool! IS this a school cuz i go to Holly Springs Elementray !!!!!!!! Im in sixth grade

18. blackboi - October 12, 2009

crazy hole man

19. PRADISHAUDEL - October 30, 2009


20. rayan - December 7, 2009

what happen when a black hole died.

21. esk - December 18, 2009


Well as far as I know black holes dont die…they just suck and grow larger.

22. Bazil 2.0 - March 4, 2010

It’s creepy to think of these things lurking out there, looking for suns to destroy. I hope they never find us. If you think they will let us know.

23. person - March 10, 2010

this thread makes me sad
do your research before commenting on things

24. You Dont Need To Know - March 28, 2010

thats really cool i love black holes!

25. peter - May 18, 2010

WELL the universe is a huge place in every reason the odds are small because the universe is so large.A black hole thats only big as a grape frute will be able to suck up the whole planet. watch the science channel so some thing to learn more

astro jetson - June 16, 2011

Black holes dont suck anything up. If our sun turned into a black hole all the earth would do is orbit around it. The only way a black hole would swallow the earth is if it had crossed the event horizon. which in our suns case would only be 3km seeing how its only 1Mʘ.

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