A new study claims that black holes grow as large as 50 billion suns. A researcher from University of Leicester says that black holes inflate to this size before losing gases to sustain themselves.

Professor Andrew King looked at black holes at the centre of galaxies, around areas where gas settles into an orbiting disc. King came up with the size of 50 billion solar masses after calculating how big a black hole needs to be, in order to keep a disc from forming on the outer edge. These discs are unstable and form into stars, according to a news release.

“The significance of this discovery is that astronomers have found black holes of almost the maximum mass, by observing the huge amount of radiation given off by the gas disc as it falls in,” King stated. “The mass limit means that this procedure should not turn up any masses much bigger than those we know, because there would not be a luminous disc.”

King said that the black hole would stop growing without a disc. The scientist added that black holes could only get bigger if a star falls straight in or from merging with other black holes.

“Bigger black hole masses are in principle possible.... but no light would be produced in this merger,” King noted. “One might nevertheless detect it in other ways, for example as it bent light rays passing very close to it (gravitational lensing) or perhaps in future from the gravitational waves that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity predicts would be emitted as it merged.”

Sky and Telescope magazine reported that stellar-mass black holes’ sizes are usually in the range of 10 to 100 solar masses. Moreover, extremely massive black holes could be millions or billions of solar masses, like the new study’s findings. Sagittarius A*, a black hole at the centre of the Milky Way is the only black whole whose mass has been measured directly by analysing the full orbit of a circling star, with 4.3 million solar masses in size.

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