Galaxy-squatting black hole set for the record books

Astronomers on Wednesday said they had found possibly the biggest black hole ever observed, a leviathan with a mass 17 billion times that of the Sun, brooding at the heart of a distant galaxy.

The black hole is as unexpected as it is vast, for it accounts for nearly a seventh of its galaxy's mass, a finding that may rewrite theories of cosmic formation, they said.

Named NGC 1277, the monster lies 220 million light years away in a small galaxy just a tenth the size of our Milky Way.

The hole's maw is more than 11 times wider than Neptune's orbit around the Sun.

It accounts for a whopping 14 percent of the galaxy's mass, compared with the 0.1 percent that is the norm for galactic black holes.

"This is a really oddball galaxy," said Karl Gebhardt of the University of Texas at Austin in a press release.

"It's almost all black hole. This could be the first object in a new class of galaxy black hole systems."

NGC 1277 is already the second biggest black hole ever observed, and it is a strong contender for the top spot, for the current record holder, spotted in 2011, has still not been precisely calculated. It is somewhere between six and 37 billion solar masses.

Black holes are the most powerful known forces in the Universe, creating a gravitational field that is so strong that even light cannot escape from it.

A black hole of stellar mass is formed when a very big star collapses in on itself at the end of its life.

It may then grow by gobbling up other stars and merging with other black holes, sometimes creating "supermassive" black holes which scientists say inhabit the centres of galaxies.

NGC 1277 challenges part of the galactic black hole theory because of its size relative to its galaxy.

In addition, it sits at the centre of a small disc-shaped galaxy, whereas a black hole of this size would have been expected in a far bigger blob-like, or "elliptical," galaxy.

Further work is needed to confirm whether NGC 1277 is a one-off or part of a hitherto-overlooked process of black hole creation.

"The galaxy hosting the new black hole appears to have formed more than eight billion years ago, and does not appear to have changed much since then," the Max Planck Institute said.

"Whatever created this giant black hole must have happened a long time ago."

  • How a mom stole a car in under 60 seconds 9 hours ago
    How a mom stole a car in under 60 seconds

    “I didn't steal your car but I think my mom may have. It's a long story. I'll explain, but your car is safe and sound," read the flier posted in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It’s a strange tale that began when Cheyrl Thorpe was asked by her daughter Nekisia Davis to dog sit her Pomeranian at her apartment, according to New York Magazine.

  • All-new 2015 Subaru Outback reestablishes higher ground 11 hours ago
    All-new 2015 Subaru Outback reestablishes higher ground

    Much of Subaru’s modern day success in America can be attributed to one car: the Outback. Born in 1994 as a response to the growing popularity of SUVs, the Outback established a winning formula of combining a high-riding suspension, butch body cladding and big round fog lights to its comfortable, no-nonsense Legacy wagon. It is the kind of unique product that only a quirky company like Subaru could build, and was one that kept Subaru from slipping into ubiquity even as traditional SUVs and crossovers have taken over the world.

  • Custom faux-tique electric tram aims to replace New York's horses over the neigh-sayers 12 hours ago
    Custom faux-tique electric tram aims to replace New York's horses over the neigh-sayers

    For the record, it's the year 2014. I mention that in case someone reading this story about a push to replace horses with motorized carriages thinks they've stumbled onto some archival piece by accident. It's been more than 100 years since the first vehicles began to trundle around Manhattan, but the last remaining vestiges of horse-powered transport in the city could be nigh — if the backers of a massive electric wagon get their way.

  • Singaporeans slam NEA's $120 licence requirement for tissue sellers
    Singaporeans slam NEA's $120 licence requirement for tissue sellers

    Singaporeans on social media reacted angrily to news that tissue sellers at hawker centres and street corners are being required to pay for an annual licence.

  • Heartbreaking texts from students on sinking S. Korea ferry
    Heartbreaking texts from students on sinking S. Korea ferry

    Heart-wrenching messages of fear, love and despair, sent by high school students from a sinking South Korean ferry, added extra emotional weight Thursday to a tragedy that has stunned the nation. Nearly 300 people -- most of them students on a high school trip to a holiday island -- are still missing after the ferry capsized and sank on Wednesday morning. Mom, I love you," student Shin Young-Jin said in a text to his mother that was widely circulated in the South Korean media.

  • ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist statues against Islam, ex-judge says
    ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist statues against Islam, ex-judge says

    KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 — The “huge” statues at a Hindu temple in Batu Caves and Buddhist temple in Penang are an affront to Islam as the religion forbids idolatry, a retired Court of Appeals judge...