Beyond Counting

Huge numbers of supermassive black holes are visible in a stunning new photo that astronomers said is the deepest X-ray image of the sky ever captured.

The concentration of these light-gobbling monsters in the central region of the photo is unprecedented — the equivalent of 5,000 supermassive black holes over an area the size of the full moon, or 1 billion if extended across the entire night sky, researchers said.

“With this one amazing picture, we can explore the earliest days of black holes in the universe and see how they change over billions of years,” Niel Brandt of Pennsylvania State University, who led a team of researchers studying the image, said in a statement. [Images: Black Holes of the Universe]

The image incorporates about 80 days’ worth of data collected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory spacecraft and covers a patch of sky 8.5 light-years across. About seven out of every 10 objects in the photo are supermassive black holes, which lie at the hearts of galaxies and contain 100,000 to 10 billion times the mass of the sun, study team members said.

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