Researchers have found that black holes could swell up to 50 times the mass of the sun if they do not lose their gas discs on which they rely to sustain themselves.
Black holes are some of the most unusual and fascinating objects found in outer space. These objects exhibit such a strong gravitational field that nothing can escape them, not even the light.
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Science knew that black holes lie in the center of large galaxies and could be incredibly massive. For instance, a black hole found inside galaxy NGC 1277 is as massive as 17 billion suns. Our own galaxy Milky Way also contains a black hole which is 6 billion times the mass of the sun. But how big can a black hole grow? Researchers at University of Leicester have found the answer.
Black holes could grow as large as 50 billion suns before losing the discs of gas which they need to maintain themselves.
Black holes are fueled by gas floating around them, but these gas discs can be unstable and crumble into stars. Without discs, which are the primary source of food, black holes will stop growing.
Researchers have calculated how big a black hole would have to be for its outer edge to keep a gas disc intact and they found that it is 50 billion solar masses.
“The significance of the discovery is that astronomers have found black holes of almost the maximum mass, by observing the huge amount of radiation given off by the gas disc as it falls in. The mass limit means that this procedure should not turn up any masses much bigger than those we know, because there would not be a luminous disc.” Professor Andrew King from University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy said.
Still there is a possibility that black holes can get larger without disc if a star fall straight in or another black hole merged with it.
“Bigger black hole masses are in principle possible – for example, a hole near the maximum mass could merge with another black hole and the result would be bigger still,” explained professor King. “But no light would be produced in this merger and the bigger merged black hole could not have a disc of gas that would make light.”
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Albert Einstein first predicted black holes in 1916 in the general theory of relativity while the first black hole was discovered almost five decades later in 1971.