(CN) – Astronomers have discovered the largest black holes to date, “so enormous they are capable of consuming anything within a region five times the size of Earth’s solar system,” the National Science Foundation said Monday.
Astrophysicists Chung-Pei Ma and Nicholas McConnell from the University of California, Berkeley, co-authored a paper in the journal Nature that will detail their findings of the black holes, which each have a mass of around 10 billion suns.
Scientists believe most galaxies have a black hole in its center, which is fueled by “swallowing” gas and stars from other parts of the galaxy.
“We knew that really large quasars, which are powered by matter falling into black holes, existed in the early universe,” researcher Ma said in statement. “What we hadn’t yet found was where the remnants of those quasars – equally large black holes – were in the current universe.”
Astronomers have found that black holes consume large amounts of gas and dust from the center of the galaxy, which makes them become “dormant,” and therefore difficult to observe.
“Since black holes cannot be seen, we have to detect them by carefully observing their immediate surroundings,” researcher McConnell said. “These galaxies contained enormous masses within a small central volume too much mass to come from stars alone.”
The two black holes contain most of the mass of the galaxies they had been observing, the researchers concluded.
The discovery was with support from the National Science Foundation, the International Gemini Observatory, Hawaii’s Keck Observatory and the McDonald Observatory in Austin, Texas.