Tour 10 mind-bending supermassive black holes in this NASA video

A brand-new animation illustrates how these cosmic monsters stack up against one another and other cosmic objects.

The enormous size of supermassive black holes, which are thought to reside at the center of the majority, if not all, big galaxies, is depicted in a new NASA animation.

They range in mass from 100,000 to tens of billions of times that of the sun in these cosmic giants. However, astronomers are unsure of how supermassive black holes get to be so big.

Jeremy Schnittman, a theorist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement that "direct measurements, many made with the aid of the Hubble Space Telescope, confirm the presence of more than 100 supermassive black holes." How do they become so large? The center black holes of merging galaxies may eventually combine as well.

The new NASA movie passes through ten supermassive black holes of increasing mass, including Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the black hole at the center of our galaxy, and Messier 87 (M87), the first black hole ever to be observed by humans. Based on the breadth of their "shadows," the supermassive black holes' diameters are enlarged in the animation.

Even light cannot escape a black hole's powerful gravitational attraction at its event horizon, which is a spherical outer limit shared by all black holes. The mass of the black hole determines the width of the event horizon; a larger black hole has a broader event horizon. According to NASA experts, the black hole's shadow is almost twice as large as its event horizon.

Our sun, which makes up 99% of the solar system's mass and is the most enormous object there, is where the animation starts. Then, as we slowly pull back, the architecture of the solar system become more and more visible, including the orbits of planets like Mercury, Earth, and Jupiter as well as the distances to objects like the main asteroid belt and the Oort Cloud, a massive comet storage area distant from the sun. These widths are compared in the video to progressively larger supermassive black hole shadows.

The dwarf galaxy J1601+3113's supermassive black hole, which has a mass around 100,000 times that of the sun, is the first one to be described. The shadow of this black hole is about the size of the sun.

The animation also features Sgr A*, a star with 4.3 million times the mass of the sun and a shadow that is almost half as wide as Mercury is from the sun. The animation moves farther away as it passes by the two enormous black holes in the galaxy NGC 7727.

These two black holes, which have masses 6 million and 150 million times that of the sun, are spaced apart by around 1,600 light-years. However, the gap between the two titans is closing, and astronomers predict that, in about 250 million years, the two black holes will join, creating an even more powerful daughter black hole.

This kind of collision may hold the key to understanding the growth of supermassive black holes. Gravitational waves, which are caused by these mergers, have been detected by detectors on Earth, including the LIGO system. Additionally, NASA is developing the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), a space-based gravitational wave detector, to help us comprehend these extreme occurrences by detecting more of these space-time ripples.

The video then progresses to larger-scale objects that would no longer fit within our solar system, such as the supermassive black hole at the center of M87, from these two collision-bound black holes. Recently, scientists discovered that this object, known as M87*, has a mass of around 5.4 billion suns.

According to NASA authorities, the shadow cast by M87, which was directly observed by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) in a picture made public in 2019, is so large that it would take light two and a half days to pass through it.

The video's climax is Tonantzintla 618 (Ton 618), the largest object yet found with a mass around 60 billion times that of the sun. To put that in context: Ton 618 is nearly six times more massive than all of the stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud put together, and about 15,000 times more massive than Sgr A*. (Our own Milky Way's tiny satellite galaxy, the LMC, is one of them.)

Around 10 billion light-years from Earth, Ton 618 is so vast that it would take a light beam many weeks to pass through its shadow. The new animation stays on the enormous black hole for a brief period of time before becoming completely dark, allowing viewers an opportunity to comprehend its mind-boggling size.