Here's Why There Are an Enormous Number of Black Holes in the Universe

It's roughly 6 times that of sand grains on Earth.
Chris Young
An illustration of a black holeElen11/iStock

Astronomers used a new method to estimate the number of black holes in the observable universe, and as you can imagine, the number is almost brain-numbingly large.

The researchers, from institutions in Italy and the U.K. estimated a number of 40 quintillion black holes using advanced computer modeling, a press statement reveals.

In conjunction with other key studies into black holes and their role in the formation of the universe, the new research could help to transform our understanding of the cosmos.

Computing the 'stellar black hole mass function'

To put things in perspective, very roughly speaking, estimates suggest there are over seven quintillion grains of sand on all of the beaches on Earth combined. That's a lot of grains of sand and there are even more black holes in the universe. Take into account the fact that a black hole could practically vaporize our planet in moments — they've even been observed to trigger massive stars to go supernova — and we have a frightening, and awe-inspiring, a reminder of just how tiny we really are.

The team of researchers from the U.K. and Italy used complex computer models that took into account the formation rate and mass of stars as well as the metallicity of galaxies to reach their estimations number. They published their research in The Astrophysical Journal

"The innovative character of this work is in the coupling of a detailed model of stellar and binary evolution with advanced recipes for star formation and metal enrichment in individual galaxies," said Alex Sicilia, first author of the study and a researcher at the SISSA science facility in Italy. "This is one of the first, and one of the most robust, ab initio [ground up] computation[s] of the stellar black hole mass function across cosmic history," he continued.

Revealing the mysteries of the universe

The researchers compared the average number of black holes per megaparsec — an area of roughly 34,700,000,000,000,000,000 cubic light-years. They found that, on average, there are approximately 3 million black holes per megaparsec, which they then multiplied to fill the volume of the entire observable universe. Of course, as we're talking such mind-staggeringly large numbers, the team of scientists could only provide us with a very rough estimate.

Still, the new estimation could have a bearing on countless other studies across the fields of astrophysics and astronomy. Earlier this month, for example, astrophysicists from Yale University, the University of Miami, and the European Space Agency (ESA) proposed a theory that primordial black holes, created in the first moments following the Big Bang, could account for all dark matter. In such studies, even rough estimations can help to provide an important range of comparisons that could help to completely transform our understanding of the universe.

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