Black Holes Can Get How Big? The Answer Is More Than A Bit Frightening

Black Holes. What do you know about them? What does anyone really know about them? As we all remember from movies and cartoons when we were kids, black holes are large holes in space that suck everything inside of them and nothing can escape, not even light.

Now, scientists are a little more keyed in on how black holes work, or at least they think they are. Scientists have recently released some estimations of just how big they think black holes can get, and the size is a little frightening.

space [Photo by NASA/ESAvia Getty Images]First of all, lets take just a short refresher of what an actual black hole is (or what we think it is) so that we’re all on the same page. For starters, let’s stop thinking of a black hole as an actual “hole” as we know it here on Earth. What might be a better way to think about it is as a specific “region” of space. It is an area. However, that “area” is not just a region of space, but, rather, scientists say that a black hole is actually a region of “spacetime.”

Yeah. It’s going to get confusing, but try to stay with me.

In terms of black holes, physicists apply the name “spacetime” any time that a particular model — or description — of space interweaves itself with time.

A black hole is a region of spacetime somewhere in the universe that exhibits an immense gravitational pull that nothing — including light — can escape. Black holes of stellar size are thought to form when large stars come to the end of their lives and collapse inward on themselves. At present, all galaxies in the known universe are thought to have a black hole at their center, including our very own Milky Way.

Space The bright flares at the center of this photo are believed to be the event horizon around the black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.
[Photo by NASA/CXC/MIT/F.K.Baganoff/Getty Images]
Stellar size? That sounds like a big black hole. But just how big can a black hole actually get? A new paper put forward from the University of Leicester in England has attempted to answer that very question.

Andrew King, an Astronomical Theorist, recently had his paper, “How Big Can a Black Hole Grow?” published in the journal, Monthly Notices Letters of the Royal Astronomical Society. In his black hole paper, King explained that his estimation is that the largest a black hole could ever get would be the equivalent of 50 billion solar masses, (or about 50 billion times larger than our own sun). Something that large is difficult to comprehend with the human mind.

King said that knowing just how big black holes can get means that we probably won’t be surprised by any larger than 50 billion solar masses — of which size we’ve already detected several.

“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. 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.”

Technically, according to King, there is one way that a black hole could end up being larger than the size of 50 billion suns. If two black holes were to form close enough to each other, and end up merging, the resulting massive black hole could break the 50 billion sun threshold.

“…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.”

So, even though a black hole could form in size larger than 50 billion suns, we here on Earth would have a hard time detecting it.

[Photo by ESA/Getty Images]