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Record Breaker

February 6, 2012

The black hole at the center of our galaxy is about four million times as massive as the Sun, and millions of miles across — a monster you want to stay well clear of.

Yet compared to the black hole at the center of the galaxy NGC 4889, the one in the Milky Way is sort of like a hole dug by a pill bug compared to the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns.

NGC 4889 is a giant elliptical galaxy — a football-shaped galaxy that’s much larger and heavier than the Milky Way.

A couple of months ago, a team of astronomers reported that the black hole at the center of NGC 4889 is probably a record breaker. It appears to be about 5,000 times more massive than the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

The astronomers used a telescope in Hawaii to measure the speeds of stars at different points near the center of the galaxy. They then plugged those measurements into mathematical models, and ran the models on supercomputers at the University of Texas. The speeds of the stars reveal the mass of the central black hole.

The results for different models vary a bit, but the most likely number is somewhere around 20 billion times the mass of the Sun.

At that mass, the black hole would be a dozen times wider than the orbit of Neptune, the most distant planet in our solar system. And its gravity would dominate a region hundreds of light-years across — a region you definitely want to avoid if you ever visit NGC 4889.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2011


Find out more about NGC 4889 in our Black Hole Encyclopedia.



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