Very cool video shows how tiny our star is compared to supermassive black holes

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Black Hole Week is in full swing over at Nasa, and it hasn’t disappointed with this incredible video of some of the universe’s biggest monsters.

Putting the ‘super’ in supermassive black hole, the animation shows 10 of the features and their comparative size relative to our own Sun – which itself is rather on the large side but quickly pales to less than a speck alongside the light-stealing behemoths.

‘Direct measurements, many made with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, confirm the presence of more than 100 supermassive black holes,’ said Jeremy Schnittman, a theorist at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. ‘How do they get so big? When galaxies collide, their central black holes eventually may merge together too.’

But how do astronomers measure black holes, given they famously eat up any light around them?

According to Nasa, any light crossing the event horizon – the black hole’s point of no return – becomes trapped forever, and any light passing close to it is redirected by the black hole’s intense gravity. Together, these effects produce a ‘shadow’ about twice the size of the black hole’s actual event horizon.

In 2019, astronomers captured the first image of the giant black holes at the centers of M87 and the Milky Way. They revealed a bright ring of hot orbiting gas surrounding a circular zone of darkness.

Called Sagittarius A* (pronounced ay-star), the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way boasts the weight of 4.3million Suns based on long-term tracking of stars in orbit around it. Its shadow diameter spans about half that of Mercury’s orbit in our solar system.

Starring alongside Sagittarius A* in the video is 1601+3113, a dwarf galaxy hosting a black hole packed with the mass of 100,000 Suns, and two monster black holes in the galaxy known as NGC 7727. Located about 1,600 light-years apart, one weighs 6million solar masses and the other more than 150million Suns. 


This is a real term that describes what happens when matter gets too close to a black hole. It’s squeezed horizontally and stretched vertically, resembling a noodle.

Source: Nasa

Astronomers say the pair will merge within the next 250 million years.

At the animation’s larger scale lies M87’s black hole, with a mass of 5.4billion Suns. Its shadow is so big that even a beam of light – travelling at 670million mph – would take about two and a half days to cross it.

The film ends with TON 618, one of a handful of extremely distant and massive black holes for which astronomers have direct measurements. This gargantuan giant contains more than 60billion solar masses, and it boasts a shadow so large that a beam of light would take weeks to traverse it.

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