Stunning NASA Animation Reveals The Monstrous Scale of Black Holes

In order to give you a realistic idea of the volume of space occupied by a supermassive black hole, NASA has released a new animation.

These galaxies serve as the gravitational heart around which stars twirl in an orbital dance that lasts for eons. They are the behemoths of the universe. On the lower end of the spectrum, they begin at around 100,000 times the mass of the Sun, and at their maximum, they may reach tens of billions of solar masses.

All right, these are abstract numbers, but it's difficult to imagine how big these things really are. One of the great mysteries of the universe is how things came to be the way they are, despite the fact that we do have some theories.

There are more than 100 supermassive black holes, according to direct observations, many of which were made with the aid of the Hubble Space Telescope, says theoretical astronomer Jeremy Schnittman of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. How do they become so large? The center black holes of merging galaxies may eventually combine as well.

The black holes themselves could not even be that large. The universe's black holes are the densest things we are aware of. They are so small that the only mathematical term we can use to describe them is a singularity, which is a one-dimensional point with infinite density. They are so dense that space-time is gravitationally bent around them, creating what is essentially a closed sphere. Not even light has enough speed to escape from that sphere.

When we discuss a black hole's dimensions, we are referring to its event horizon, which is the border. The Schwartzschild radius—the circumference of the sphere enclosed by the event horizon—increases with black hole mass. For instance, the Sun's Schwartzschild radius would be just 2.95 kilometers (1.8 miles) if it were a black hole.

As far as we are aware, the tiniest black holes, which are objects produced from the collapsing core of a huge star at the end of its existence, start at around five times the mass of the Sun. These black holes have stellar masses.

The maximum mass of stellar mass black holes is about 65 times that of the Sun because the massive precursor stars that would give rise to these larger objects pass away in a pair-instability supernova, which completely destroys the core and leaves nothing behind for the black hole to collide with.

However, black holes with stellar masses greater than 65 solar masses have been observed. They can arise from the merger of two black holes, which produces a mass-combining object. However, there is a significant gap between these and the supermassive and ultramassive black holes. Really literally. In the mass range between stellar mass black holes and supermassive ones, there have been very few black holes found.

However, there is also a wide variety among supermassive black holes. Starting with a black hole in a dwarf galaxy designated J1601+3113, which has a black hole with a mass of about 100,000 solar masses, NASA's new animation provides a truly astounding look at that range. Its Schwarzschild radius would be little smaller than half the size of the Sun as a result. In the movie, this shadow seems to be almost the same size as the Sun because the black hole's shadow spreads into the area surrounding its event horizon, creating a darker region nearly twice its size.

Also visible is Sagittarius A*, the about 4.3 million solar mass supermassive black hole at the heart of our own galaxy. There is also M87*, the first black hole to be seen, which has a mass 5.37 billion Suns, which is substantially higher.

The same galaxy, NGC 7727, likewise has two black holes hanging at its core. NGC 7727 was formerly composed of two galaxies. The two black holes at the galactic cores, measuring in at 154 million and 6.3 million solar masses, respectively, have now merged and have descended to the heart of the newly joined galaxy, where they will eventually also merge.

These black holes are a significant hint that, according to scientists, reveals one method of supermassive black hole growth. Their mergers ought to result in gravitational waves. These mergers happen too seldom for our existing tools to pick them up, though.

The monster referred to as TON-618 is one of the biggest black holes that we are aware of in the Universe. Its mass was estimated by experts to be a staggering 66 billion solar masses in 2004. Around 50 billion solar masses is one theoretical upper limit for the mass of black holes, but the universe is pretty good at defying theories.

The black hole's Schwarzschild radius would be more than 1,300 astronomical units at such mass. To put things in perspective, Pluto is located around 40 astronomical units from the Sun in its orbit. The Solar System would be completely engulfed by this object.