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IntroductionBlack holes are gigantic cosmic monsters, exotic objects whose gravity is so strong that not even light can escape their clutches.
Black holes come in a wide variety of forms, from small stellar-mass bodies to the supermassive beasts that reside at the hearts of galaxies. Here are 10 of the most extreme black holes, from the smallest to the largest and from cannibals to rogues.
FIRST UP: The biggest and baddest
The Biggest Black HolesSlide 2 of 21
The Biggest Black HolesNearly all galaxies are thought to harbor at their cores supermassive black holes millions to billions of times the mass of our sun. Scientists recently discovered the largest black holes known in two nearby galaxies.
One of these galaxies, known as NGC 3842 — the brightest galaxy in the Leo cluster nearly 320 million light years away — has a central black hole containing 9.7 billion solar masses. The other, NGC 4889, the brightest galaxy in the Coma cluster more than 335 million light years away, has a black hole of comparable or larger mass.
The gravitational range, or "event horizon," of these black holes is about five times the distance from the sun to Pluto. For comparison, these black holes are 2,500 times as massive as the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, whose event horizon is one-fifth the orbit of Mercury.
NEXT UP: The smallestSlide 3 of 21
The Smallest Black HoleSlide 4 of 21
The Smallest Black HoleThe smallest black hole discovered to date may be less than three times the mass of our sun. This would put this little monster, officially called IGR J17091-3624, near the theoretical minimum limit needed for a black hole to be stable. As tiny as this black hole may be, it looks fierce, capable of 20 million mph winds (32 million kph) — the fastest yet observed from a stellar-mass black hole by nearly 10 times.
NEXT UP: Cannibal black holesSlide 5 of 21
Cannibalistic Black HolesSlide 6 of 21
Cannibalistic Black HolesBlack holes devour anything unlucky enough to drift too close, including other black holes. Scientists recently detected the monstrous black hole at the heart of one galaxy getting consumed by a still larger black hole in another.
The discovery is the first of its kind. Astronomers had witnessed the final stages of the merging of galaxies of equal mass — so-called major mergers — but minor mergers between galaxies and smaller companions had long eluded researchers.
Using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, investigators detected two black holes at the center of a galaxy dubbed NGC3393, with one black hole about 30 million times the mass of the sun and the other at least 1 million times the mass of the sun, separated from each other by only about 490 light-years.
NEXT UP: Spitting gas bulletsSlide 7 of 21
Bullet-shooting Black HoleSlide 8 of 21