NASA Animation Sizes Up the Biggest Black Holes

“Direct measurements, many made with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, confirm the presence of more than 100 supermassive black holes,” said Jeremy Schnittman, a theorist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in NASA’s release. “How do they get so big? When galaxies collide, their central black holes eventually may merge together too.”


Sagittarius A* also gets a featured moment in the animation. Sagittarius A* is the black hole at the center of the Milky Way and has a mass of 4.3 million Suns. The black hole’s shadow diameter is about half the width of Mercury’s orbit. Another favorite, M87, makes an appearance. M87 has a mass of 5.4 billion Suns and was the subject of the first-ever image of a black hole, released in 2019 by the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration.

NASA’s animation gives a sense of scale to these mysterious cosmic oddities that gobble up matter across the universe. In October, scientists published evidence of a black hole puking up a star seemingly years after consuming it. The researchers detected the black hole emitting material back into space in 2021 using an Earth-spanning observatory, but the black hole hadn’t consumed any matter in the three years prior. Last month, a team enhanced that famous image of M87*, using machine learning to reveal more detail about the material surrounding the black hole.