Supermassive Black Holes

A supermassive black hole is the largest type of black hole in a galaxy, on the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of solar masses. Most, and possibly all galaxies, including the Milky Way, are believed to contain supermassive black holes at their centers.

Supermassive black holes have properties which distinguish them from lower-mass classifications:

  • The average density of a supermassive black hole (defined as the mass of the black hole divided by the volume within its Schwarzschild radius) can be as low as the density of water for very large mass black holes. This is because the Schwarzschild radius is directly proportional to mass, while density is inversely proportional to the volume. Since the volume of a spherical object (such as the event horizon of a non-rotating black hole) is directly proportional to the cube of the radius, and mass merely increases linearly, the volume increases by a much greater factor than the mass as a black hole grows. Thus, average density decreases for increasingly larger radii of black holes (due to volume increasing much faster than mass).
  • The tidal forces in the vicinity of the event horizon are significantly weaker. Since the central singularity is so far away from the horizon, a hypothetical astronaut traveling towards the black hole center would not experience significant tidal force until very deep into the black hole.
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