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Black Holes More Common Than Previously Thought

Image of the massive galaxy NGC 1600, and the bright center of the galaxy where the 17-billion-solar-mass black hole resides. (ESA/Hubble image courtesy of STScI)

Scientists have discovered a Super Massive Black Hole in a lonely part of the universe, suggesting they may be more common than previously thought.

The giant light eater was discovered by astronomers at the University of California at Berkeley.

A super massive black hole gets the name when it has mass about 10 billion times greater than our sun.

Until now astronomers tended to find them in galaxy cores, very busy places.

The largest ever discovered, with a mass equal to about 21 billion suns, was found in a crowded part of space called the Coma Cluster.

There goes the neighborhood

But the new entry, with the mass of about 17 billion suns, was found in a relative backwater of space, in a galaxy called NGC 1600.

For the Berkeley astronomers it was like finding a skyscraper in the middle of a cornfield.

They say if it can happen in an astronomical backwater, then these kinds of light eating gravity monsters may be way more common than we thought.

"So the question now is," according to Chung-Pei Ma, a UC Berkeley professor of astronomy "is this the tip of an iceberg?' Maybe there are a lot more monster black holes out there that don't live in a skyscraper in Manhattan, but in a tall building somewhere in the Midwestern plains."

The information is important to the team because it is being folded into a much larger project called MASSIVE headed by Ma which is studying the most massive galaxies and black holes in the local universe with the goal of understanding how they form and grow supermassive.

Their goal is to literally weigh the stars, dark matter and black holes in the nearby universe.

The research is published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

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    Kevin Enochs

    Kevin Enochs is an award-winning content creator who has been explaining the intricacies of the natural world to television and online audiences for over 20 years.

    He perfected his craft working for CNN and the National Geographic Channel before heading to the Voice of America in 2012.