Black holes remain one of science’s most confounding phenomena. Now, the puzzling region of spacetime has become shrouded in even more mystery. According to Quanta Magazine, black hole experts and astrophysicists are buzzing with the possible discovery of a new black hole. The catch? It is so incredibly large that it shouldn’t exist by current scientific standards.
The possible black hole was discovered by the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave detectors. Scientists claimed that they recently picked up the signal of a black hole with a mass of around double the previous largest black hole detected.
Previously, scientific consensus was that the upper limit of a mass of a colliding black hole was 50 suns. This limit was established by looking at the way a black hole is formed when a star undergoes its death. A star with 65-130 solar masses would undergo a pair-instability supernova, completely annihilating the star. For those between 50-65 solar masses, the star would “pulsate” in a series of explosions until its mass decreased to around 50 suns.
“The prediction is no black holes, not even a few” in this mass range, claimed Stan Woosley, an astrophysicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
“The prediction comes from straightforward calculations,” he continued, before adding, “But of course we know nature often finds a way.”
Chris Belczynski, an astrophysicist at Warsaw University, had previously been so confident that a black hole of that size couldn’t exist that he placed a bet with colleagues in 2017. Daniel Holz of the University of Chicago soon joined, and Quanta has a picture of the written paper that the men used to seal their wager.
On the opposing side of the bet, Carl Rodriguez of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Sourav Chatterjee of the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India, believed that it was possible for a black hole of over 50 solar masses to exist under the theory that there were “roundabout” ways for them to form.
“I think we are about to lose the bet,” Belczynski said, “and for the good of science!”
Belczynski and Holz will owe Rodriguez and Chatterjee a $100 bottle of wine each.
That said, despite this exciting new discovery, there technically are larger black holes in the universe — just not of the same type. Black holes of millions and even billions of solar masses often exist in the centers of galaxies, holding them together. However, scientists still don’t completely know how they formed, and have currently hypothesized that they came to existence in the early stages of universe formation.
The largest black hole ever discovered, located at the galactic center of Messier 87, contains an approximated mass of 40 billion suns — and was heralded earlier this month as a “monster black hole” by Universe Today.