Black holes are the most gluttonous forms of celestial bodies. The keep eating, and eating, and eating, until… when? This is what scientists asked themselves before they undertook this study, and as it turns out, black holes visible until reaching 50 billion solar masses.
How do black holes eat?
Supermassive black holes are believed to be found at the center of any large galaxy. Yes, even our Milky Way contains a large force of consumption at its center, force that will eventually consume it.
At the outer rim of these black holes is a huge ring of gas and dust, which slowly goes into the black hole, augmenting its size and its gravitational pull, and then part of it being spewed out in the form of jets of superhot plasma.
When have they had enough?
This generally helps the galaxy grow and maintain its structure; however, the bigger the hole gets, the bigger the ring gets, and the ring can only get to a certain size before crumbling away.
As the ring crumbles away, it stops feeding the black hole, stopping it from getting any bigger. But just how much is too much?
Professor Andrew King from the University of Leicester in the UK examined these supermassive black holes in order to come up with an answer.
The answer is quite stunning, although if you made it this far, you probably read it in the title.
According to Professor King, a black hole can grow to 50 billion times the size of our Sun before shattering its outer ring and potentially stunting its growth.
Can they get any bigger?
I’m saying potentially, because there still are other ways for a black hole to keep growing, although it would be more difficult, and we probably wouldn’t be able to observe them anymore.
You see, scientists are able to detect black holes because the enormous heat and light generated by the gas and dust in the ring as they are sucked into the black hole, as well as due to the aforementioned jets of plasma, which create very bright light when expelled from the hole.
But holes can get even bigger by having other black holes merge with them, or even having stars drift into their event horizon. It’s just that lacking the ring, we won’t be able to detect them anymore.
But that’s not quite right either, as we could still be able to pick up some black holed exceeding 50 billion solar masses by other means, like gravitational lensing (the gravity generated by a black hole bends and intensifies light, sending it into a different direction) or using the gravitational waves suggested by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
Image source: Wikimedia