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Light-bending gravity reveals one of the largest black holes ever found

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One of the largest black holes known to man has been discovered.

It is so gigantic that astronomers believe it is 30 billion times the mass of our sun and 8,000 times the size of the Sagittarius A* black hole at the heart of the Milky Way.

Experts said the “extremely exciting” discovery was made possible thanks to a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing – the first time a black hole has been observed in such a way.

It occurs when a foreground galaxy bends and magnifies the light from a more distant object.

This technique allowed researchers at Durham University to closely examine the ultramassive black hole at the heart of a galaxy hundreds of millions of light years away from Earth.

Huge: One of the largest black holes known to man has been discovered.  It is so gigantic that the object (shown in an artist's impression) is more than 30 billion times the mass of our sun

Huge: One of the largest black holes known to man has been discovered. It is so gigantic that the object (shown in an artist’s impression) is more than 30 billion times the mass of our sun

New technique: Experts said the 'extremely exciting' discovery was made possible thanks to a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing - the first time a black hole has been observed in such a way

New technique: Experts said the 'extremely exciting' discovery was made possible thanks to a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing - the first time a black hole has been observed in such a way

New technique: Experts said the ‘extremely exciting’ discovery was made possible thanks to a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing – the first time a black hole has been observed in such a way

Black holes are regions of spacetime where gravity pulls so strongly that not even light can get out.

WHAT IS GRAVITY LENSING?

Gravitational lensing occurs when a massive galaxy or cluster of galaxies bends the light emitted by a more distant galaxy.

This forms a highly magnified, albeit highly distorted, image.

This is because massive objects bend spacetime around them, causing light to travel in a different path.

This theory was first proposed by Einstein in his general theory of relativity.

They act as intense gravitational sources that suck up dust and gas in the environment.

Lead author Dr James Nightingale said: ‘This particular black hole, which is roughly 30 billion times the mass of our Sun, is one of the largest ever detected and is at the upper limit of how big we think black holes can theoretically get, so it’s an extremely exciting discovery.’

By comparison, the largest black hole in the known universe is one that powers the quasar TON 618 and has a mass 66 billion times that of the Sun.

Meanwhile, Sagittarius A* resides at the galactic center of our Milky Way and has a mass 4.1 million times our Sun – only a fraction in comparison.

The new discovery opens up the tantalizing possibility of finding far more inactive and ultramassive black holes than astronomers previously thought existed, which in turn could help them try to understand how they got so big.

Dr. Nightingale said, “Most of the largest black holes we know of are in an active state, where matter drawn close to the black hole heats up and releases energy in the form of light, X-rays and other radiation.

The researchers made their discovery after simulating light traveling through the universe hundreds of thousands of times.  Each simulation included a different massive black hole, altering the light's journey to Earth

The researchers made their discovery after simulating light traveling through the universe hundreds of thousands of times.  Each simulation included a different massive black hole, altering the light's journey to Earth

The researchers made their discovery after simulating light traveling through the universe hundreds of thousands of times. Each simulation included a different massive black hole, altering the light’s journey to Earth

Gravitational lensing occurs when a foreground galaxy bends and magnifies light from a more distant object

Gravitational lensing occurs when a foreground galaxy bends and magnifies light from a more distant object

Gravitational lensing occurs when a foreground galaxy bends and magnifies light from a more distant object

‘However, gravity lenses make it possible to study inactive black holes, something that is currently not possible in distant galaxies.

“This approach could allow us to detect many more black holes outside our local universe and reveal how these exotic objects evolved further back in cosmic time.”

The researchers made their discovery by using a supercomputer to simulate light traveling through the universe hundreds of thousands of times.

Each simulation included a different massive black hole that could alter the journey of light to Earth.

When the researchers included an ultramassive black hole in one of their simulations, the path taken by light from the distant galaxy to reach Earth matched the path seen in real images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The team hopes this is the first step in enabling deeper exploration of the mysteries of black holes, and that future large-scale telescopes will help astronomers study even more distant black holes to learn more about their size and scale.

Black holes are often described as “destructive monsters” because they shred stars, swallow anything that gets too close, and trap light.

When the researchers included an ultramassive black hole in one of their simulations, the path taken by light from the distant galaxy to reach Earth matched the path seen in real-life images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope ( photo)

When the researchers included an ultramassive black hole in one of their simulations, the path taken by light from the distant galaxy to reach Earth matched the path seen in real-life images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope ( photo)

When the researchers included an ultramassive black hole in one of their simulations, the path taken by light from the distant galaxy to reach Earth matched the path seen in real-life images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope ( photo)

Most, if not all, galaxies have monstrous black holes at their cores, including our own Milky Way galaxy.

When galaxies merge, their black holes “sink” to the center of the newly formed galaxy and eventually converge to form an even more massive black hole.

As the black holes spiral toward each other, they increasingly disrupt the fabric of space and time, emitting gravitational waves first predicted by Albert Einstein more than 100 years ago.

The largest black holes have emerged as “an integral part of models for galaxy formation and evolution,” the experts say.

The research has been published in the journal Monthly communications from the Royal Astronomical Society.

FIVE BLACK HOLE THORIES THAT WILL BLAST YOU

Black holes are among the most fascinating and hotly debated objects in the universe.

They have captured the public’s imagination for decades, thanks in part to the late Stephen Hawking, who transformed them from a hard-to-understand scientific theory to a source of mysterious wonder.

Mysterious: Black holes are among the most fascinating and hotly debated objects in the universe (stock image)

Mysterious: Black holes are among the most fascinating and hotly debated objects in the universe (stock image)

Mysterious: Black holes are among the most fascinating and hotly debated objects in the universe (stock image)

They’ve also seeped into popular culture through science fiction magazines, Star Trek, and Hollywood blockbusters.

But what are the five most bizarre and captivating theories about black holes that are so inscrutable it will blow your mind?

MailOnline takes a look here.

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