NASA animation measures the largest black holes in the universe

A new animation from NASA highlights what’s “super” about supermassive black holes. These monsters lurk at the centers of most large galaxies, including our own Milky Way, and contain anywhere from 100,000 to tens of billions of times more mass than our Sun.

Any light that crosses the event horizon, the black hole’s point of no return, is trapped forever, and any light that passes near it is redirected by the event’s intense gravity. Together, these effects produce a “shadow” about twice the size of the black hole’s actual event horizon.

The comparison of black holes.

The animation shows 10 very large black holes taking center stage in their host galaxies, including the Milky Way and M87, represented to scale by the size of their shadows.

Starting close to the Sun, the camera is constantly panned back to compare ever-larger black holes with different structures in our solar system.

The first is 1601+3113, a dwarf galaxy that hosts a black hole with a mass of 100,000 suns. Matter is so compressed that even the shadow of the black hole is smaller than our Sun.

The black hole at the heart of our own galaxy, called Sagittarius A*, counts the weight of 4.3 million suns according to long-term monitoring of the stars in orbit around it.

Its shadow diameter spans about half the orbit of Mercury in our solar system.

The animation shows two monstrous black holes in the galaxy known as NGC 7727. Located about 1,600 light-years away, one weighs 6 million solar masses and the other more than 150 million suns.

Astronomers say the pair will merge in the next 250 million years.