Professor Andrew King from the University of Leicester in the UK explored supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies, around which are regions of space where gas settles into an orbiting disc.

This gas can lose energy and fall inwards, feeding the black hole. But these discs are known to be unstable and prone to crumbling into stars. King calculated how big a black hole would have to be for its outer edge to keep a disc from forming, coming up with the figure of 50 billion solar masses.

The study suggests that without a disc, the black hole would stop growing, meaning 50 billion Suns would roughly be the upper limit. The only way it could get larger is if a star happened to fall straight in or another black hole merged with it.

The study was published in the journal Monthly Notices Letters of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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