Changing Planet

Is This the Biggest Black Hole Ever?

The galaxy NGC 1277, seen here in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, contains one of the biggest central supermassive black holes ever detected. Courtesy NASA/ESA/Andrew C. Fabian/Remco C. E. van den Bosch (MPIA)

A monstrous black hole—17 billion times the mass of the Sun and possibly the largest ever detected—appears to be too big for its galactic home, leaving astronomers scratching their heads about its very existence.

The cosmic behemoth, at the heart of a distant galaxy, is estimated to be 4,000 times larger than the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.  It’s officially ranked the second-largest black hole known; estimates on the current record holder span a wide range, from 6 to 37 billion solar masses.

This surprising find comes on the heels of the discovery earlier this week of the largest blast ever seen emanating from a black hole.

However it’s not the sheer size that has astronomers stumped, but the black hole’s mass in relation to its host galaxy, known as NGC 1277, some 250 million light years away in the constellation of Perseus.

The black hole makes up 14 percent of its galaxy’s mass, versus the usual 0.1 percent.

“Normally a black hole is tiny compared to the galaxy it sits in, but this one is really big, so much so that most of the stars in this galaxy probably feel the black hole’s attraction,” said Remco van den Bosch, astronomer at Germany’s Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy and lead author of the study published this week in Nature.


Using the Hubble Space Telescope and the Hobby-Eberly Telescope in Fort Davis, Texas, the international team of astronomers had been on the hunt for supermassive black holes, surveying close to 800.  They were surprised to find a total of six diminutive galaxies that appear to harbor the supergiant variety.

“We set out to find the biggest black holes by targeting mostly big galaxies,” said Van den Bosch.  “Now that we have found that these crazy kind of galaxies exist, we want to know how they form and how uncommon they are.”

Van den Bosch believes that since the vast majority of black holes found at the centers of galaxies account for only about 0.1 percent of their mass, this new, unexpectedly obese type of black hole could very well overturn models of galaxy evolution.

“We have expected that galaxies and black holes co-evolve together, through some kind of self-regulation & feedback mechanism,” he said. “But now we found systems where somehow the black hole could grow without forming many stars in the galaxy.”

Jenny Greene, a Princeton University astronomer not connected to the study, agreed that the new finding will force researchers to think hard about their ideas of how supermassive black holes are connected to their parent galaxy.

“In general black holes make up a fixed fraction of the galaxy mass, suggesting that they all form in a similar way, but this observation forces us to think again about that process,” she said.



Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.
  • qubitsized

    This is NOT the largest black hole ever observed!

    The largest black hole ever observed to date is NGC 4889, with a mass of 21 billion solar masses. Research is published on British Journal of Nature dated December 8, 2011.

    NGCC 1277 is the largest black hole observed to date relative to the size of the galaxy it inhabits!

  • Jason

    The laws of physics could very well have different values in different areas of spacetime/ which could account for this although low iron,silicon,and carbon could account for some of this

  • Ashvin Srinivasan

    Could there be a possibility of a black hole with such high mass density that it could actually influence the rate of stars expansion, resulting in stars moving towards the black hole, and thereby reducing the entire galaxy to the point of nothing!

  • David Donnelly

    How do these galaxies vary from their predicted spin rate n if at all (the sigma value?) As for the evolution of these galaxies, Could they be formed in nebulae of unusual density? They do pose interesting questions and I look forward to the search for solutions and their impact on cosmology.

  • ashmeed mohammed

    i find it silly that very intelligent scientists try to find a pattern with black holes and stars. break them down to their simplest bits, and u have stars forming from the coalescence of gasses and then the mass gets to be more than the volume, either by condensing matter when it gets old or absorbing more matter, it turns into a black hole.

    it seems simpler to think that if more stars or matter falls into a black hole that it would increase in mass, and generate a cycle of increasing mass increasing gravitational pulls which increases its mass. simpler than a black hole growing simultaneously with its galaxy, by some weird symbiotic arrangement of physical laws.

    simple, the larger black holes have just gobbled up more matter than the others. and for some reason of centripetal and centrifugal forces, the smaller ones have not.

  • Daniel J.

    Isn’t it possible that 2 galaxies with super massive black holes collided and merged into one? That would explain why it’s so large and why this galaxy doesn’t have as many stars as a “normal” galaxy.

  • Anthony Bear

    It would seem to me that perhaps these Super Massive Black Holes in relatively small galaxies would be due to the black hole having already devoured a large portion of that galaxy… is that not why spiral galaxies spin? It seems to me that we are all draining toward our respective black holes, galactically speaking… well, at least that’s a Theory of mine…

  • Andrew Fazekas

    The lead author of the study says in the official press statement for this story…. “With a mass 17 billion times that of the Sun, the newly discovered black hole in the center of the disk galaxy NGC 1277 might even be the biggest known black hole of all: the mass of the current record holder is estimated to lie between 6 and 37 billion solar masses (McConnell et al. 2011); if the true value lies towards the lower end of that range, NGC 1277 breaks the record. At the least, NGC 1277 harbors the second-biggest known black hole.”


  • Robert

    Very interesting. I am personally a HUGE fan of astronomy myself.

  • Siddhartha Harsha

    What are the chances of a single galaxy having multiple black holes which might merge overtime to form a gigantic black hole? What happens when two black holes meet? If they implode, then it does not explain the explosion noted above and the assumption of multiple galaxies is not true.

  • Haile

    Does this give any clue about the older galaxies possibly having larger black holes because they may have grown over time? Or, is it the belief of scientists up until now that the black holes should be affixed to their 0.1%? If they indeed grow, what does it tell us about the fate of our Universe?

  • A.R.Barfield.

    Interesting how water spins down the plughole whichever way you want it to but understanding natural eddies in rivers & $ea & space ? Any spare spaceships with their own LHC’s unused ?

  • Leanne

    God holds the the entire universe in His HANDS! No explanation needed! I see this and do not question, but rather stand in awe of how great my God is!

  • Bob Marley

    @ qubitsized

    Yes, hence the statement:
    “It’s officially ranked the second-largest black hole known; estimates on the current record holder span a wide range, from 6 to 37 billion solar masses.”

    Amazing, isn’t it, however you look at it?! The specifics of these things just boggle the mind!

  • Reid Barnes

    A new development published in an astrophysics journal dealing with such galaxy formations may be the dawning of something previously obscured, obscured because of a misconception. Are we ready for a galaxy formation paradigm shift? Check out this FB Note:

  • qwerty

    I want to go there!. 😛

  • mario

    awesome really helps with my school project

  • mario

    how do you put a pic. for when you comment daniel

  • Matthew

    What about dark matter? Maybe those areas of the universe have a lot of dark matter in them and the black holes are huge because of the unseen mass they have accumulated.

  • josh

    yes it is not the biggest black hole but one the biggest and i would love to go to space

  • Orpheas

    What about the apocalypse thing at 21/12/12.I don’t believe it.

  • Zhemuel

    Hail! My Supreme GOD.

  • dotun

    Asmeed Mohammed makes sense. Couldnt the giant black hole have resulted from mergers of galaxies over time and the resulting super massive black hole gobbling up most of the matter from the resulting merged galaxies?.

  • V-man

    I only have one thing to say: I’m glad I don’t live there.

  • Kenneth A. Gilliland

    No need for any gods, (I see there are a lot of creationist here) its just Awe Inspiring Nature !

  • Litivious

    I think the original galaxy was long ago swallowed by that black hole and some other hapless galaxy came by and was captured by this beast and is now being eaten,hence its size now 😀

  • Javad

    I wish to being there and dead.

  • Johndric Valdez

    On my list, NGC 1277 is not 2nd, it is 5th.
    Three more black holes other than NGC 4889 are significantly larger.
    1. Black hole in Phoenix Cluster, is 20 billion solar masses and is growing at a rate of 60 solar masses per year.
    2. APM 08279+5255, a quasar that holds also the largest known water source in the universe, has a 20 billion solar mass black hole.
    3. OJ 287, has the least separation of two binary black holes. The primary black hole is 18 billion solar masses.
    And there goes NGC 1277, and its 17 billion solar mass black hole.

  • kopernik2

    I propose that this galaxy began star production before the reionization was complete. Therefore, the scanty number of stars, due to insufficient star making matter.
    We don’t know how this system progressed. My suggestion is that the nucleus continued to segment, much like the Himiko system. Several independent galaxies evolved, and today their time, probably look like M31 or our own galaxy. These two themselves formed from the cleavage of an early universe super mass. In turn the Milky Way and Andromeda have seeded multiple globular star clusters and satellite galaxies. K

  • patitosheepdog

    That is not true your sad black hole is 19 billion less than my S5 0014+81 which has over 40 billion solar masses therefore this is the biggest black hole mass ever recorded in world history

  • patitosheepdog

    That is not true because S5 0014+81 is 40 billion solar masses, that is more than your sad little NGC 4889.

  • George Austin

    As we know nothing about what existed prior to the “big bang” or what may have been in the space our universe exists now, giant black holes may be remnants of prior universes in our space that are slowly contracting to create future “big bangs”. The one found at the edge of our universe with little matter around it suggests that it has been there a long time and our universe is just getting out there. I suspect as we gain knowledge of the further most edge we’ll find more giant black holes evolving into “big bangs”.

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