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Black Holes May Grow to be as Massive as 50 Billion Suns

First Posted: Dec 21, 2015 07:20 PM EST

Imagine a black hole that's as big as 50 billion suns. Scientists have found that it may be possible that supermassive black holes could swell to that size before losing the discs of gas that they rely on to sustain themselves.

In this latest study, the researchers wanted to see exactly how large a black hole could grow. They calculated how big a black hole would have to be for its outer edge to keep a disc from forming. In the end, they came up with the number of 50 billion solar masses.

That's not all, though. The scientists also found that without a disc, the black hole would stop growing. This means that 50 billion suns would roughly be the upper limit. The only way it could get larger is if a star happened to fall straight in or another black hole merged with it.

"The significance of this 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," said Andrew King, one of the researchers, in a news release. "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. 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. 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."

The findings reveal a bit more about black holes, and show exactly how large that they could potentially become.

The findings are published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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