British astronomers have discovered a huge black hole about 30 billion times the mass of the Sun.
Durham University scientists said the black hole is one of the largest ever discovered.
The team described their findings, published in the professional journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, as “extremely exciting”.
“This particular black hole, which is approximately 30 billion times the mass of our Sun, is one of the largest ever discovered,” said lead author Dr James Nightingale, from Durham University’s Department of Physics.
Supermassive black holes are the most massive objects in the universe, with masses between 10 and 40 billion times the mass of the Sun.
Astronomers believe they can be found at the center of all large galaxies like the Milky Way.
Ultramassive black holes are rare, and their origin is unclear. Some believe they were formed by an extreme merger of massive galaxies billions of years ago when the universe was still young.
Scientists used the gravitational lensing effect to reveal a black hole, a region where the gravitational force is so strong that even light cannot escape.
They then used supercomputer simulations at Durham University and images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope to confirm its size.
They said this is the first black hole detected using gravitational lensing.
“Most of the largest black holes we know of are in an active state, where matter drawn into the vicinity of the black hole heats up and releases energy in the form of light, X-rays and other radiation,” Nightingale said.
“However, gravitational lensing makes it possible to study inactive black holes, something that is currently not possible in distant galaxies.”
“This approach could allow us to discover many more black holes outside our local universe and reveal how these exotic objects have evolved further in cosmic time,” he said.
The scientists said their work raises the “exciting possibility” that astronomers may discover more ultramassive black holes than previously thought.