The image above is a computer simulation of a near-record breaking, recently discovered, supermassive black hole at the centre of the distant (200 million lightyears from the Milky Way) NGC 1600 galaxy.

Astronomers shared their discovery of the supermassive black hole with an estimated mass of 17 billion suns, making it the second largest black hole ever discovered. The largest resides in the Coma galaxy cluster, and has a mass of 21 billion suns.

To measure the mass of a black hole astronomers measure the speed of stars or gas that orbit it. Because black holes can’t be seen, the measurement of the orbit, minus the estimated distance from the diameter of the orbit can infer its approximate size.

Black holes are categorised in two sizes. Regular black holes are typically between 10 and 20 times the mass of the sun and are created when very large stars collapse at the end of their life cycle. Supermassive black holes contain billions of solar masses and are about 10 000 times the size of a black hole.

NASA explains the image above: “The black region in the centre represents the black hole’s event horizon, where no light can escape the massive object’s gravitational grip. The black hole’s powerful gravity distorts space around it like a funhouse mirror. Light from background stars is stretched and smeared as the stars skim by the black hole.”

Image credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Coe, J. Anderson, and R. van der Marel (STScI)