Astronomers just discovered a near-record-breaking black hole with a mass equivalent to 17 billion suns.
"There are only two other black holes known above 10 billion solar masses in the local universe and only a handful above 5 billion," astronomer Jens Thomas, an author on the new research, said in an email Wednesday.
17 billion suns. Let's consider that gargantuan number for a moment.
The sun is about 1.989 x 10^30 kilograms (you can round that to a 2 with 30 zeroes behind it).
It's about 333,000 times the mass of Earth.
By itself, the sun makes up about 99.8% of the entire mass of our solar system. Now imagine multiplying that by 17 billion.
That's how mindbogglingly huge this black hole is.
What's more, a black hole of this size wasn't supposed to be in the area where it was discovered. Astronomers expect to find giant black holes like these in large galaxies within dense clusters of galaxies.
But astronomers found this huge black hole in the cosmic boondocks. It sits in the middle of an isolated galaxy called NGC 1600, about 200 million light-years away from Earth.
"Even though we already had hints that the galaxy might host an extreme object in the center, we were surprised that the black hole in NGC 1600 is 10 times more massive than predicted by the mass of the galaxy," Thomas explained in a statement.
That means enormous black holes like this one could be more common than we originally thought, Thomas explained in an email.
The team is going to continue studying the black hole to figure out if there might be more like it.
"Our ongoing observations of massive galaxies will soon reveal whether the extreme black hole in NGC 1600 is a rare find in an unusual environment, or the tip of an iceberg," Thomas and the team of researchers conclude in their paper.