Black Hole Names: Exploring Notable Discoveries and Designations

Black holes are mysterious cosmic entities that have captured the curiosity and imagination of astronomers and the general public alike. These enigmatic objects are formed when massive stars collapse in on themselves, creating a gravitational pull so strong that not even light can escape. From the smallest stellar-mass black holes to the gargantuan supermassive ones, understanding these intriguing features is made easier by assigning them distinct black hole names.

The process of naming black holes varies greatly, often reflecting the creativity of researchers or referencing the locations in which they were discovered. Some black holes are given alphanumeric names, such as APM 08279+5255, which is known for having one of the largest black holes with an estimated mass of 10-23 billion solar masses [source]. On the other hand, some are named after their associated constellations, like the first black hole ever discovered, Cygnus X-1, located in the Cygnus constellation [source].

Regardless of their names, black holes continue to be a fascinating area of research for scientists, as they provide insights into the nature of gravity, the behavior of matter, and the origins of the universe. As more information becomes available, experts can learn how these massive entities influence the cosmos and expand our understanding of the great expanse that exists beyond our planet.

Notable Black Holes Names

Sagittarius A*

Sagittarius A* is the supermassive black hole located at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Discovered in 1974, it is approximately 26,000 light-years away from Earth and has a mass of about 4 million times that of the sun. This black hole is an important research target for astronomers to study the behavior of matter near black holes and better understand the nature of these enigmatic objects.Go Astronomy

Cygnus X-1

Cygnus X-1 is a well-known stellar-mass black hole in the constellation Cygnus, first observed in 1964. It is part of a binary system with a massive blue star called HDE 226868. Cygnus X-1 is considered one of the strongest sources of X-rays in the sky and has a mass between 14-16 times that of our sun. This black hole serves as an important cosmic laboratory for astronomers to investigate the physics of black holes and their interaction with surrounding stars and matter.Wikipedia


M87* is the supermassive black hole situated at the heart of the elliptical galaxy Messier 87 (M87), approximately 55 million light-years away from Earth. It gained significant attention when, in 2019, the Event Horizon Telescope produced the first-ever direct image of a black hole. This black hole has an impressive mass of about 6.5 billion times that of the sun, providing astronomers with valuable information about the behavior of matter and light around black holes and helping to validate Einstein’s theories of relativity.Go Astronomy

Naming Conventions for Black Holes

Astronomical Naming Systems

When it comes to black hole names, there are no consistent naming conventions across the astronomical community. In general, supermassive black holes are named according to the galaxy in which they reside. These designations can be derived from different catalogues, such as the New General Catalogue (NGC) and the list of Messier objects (source).

For instance, a black hole within a galaxy whose name starts with “M” was catalogued by Charles Messier in the 1700s, and those that begin with “NGC” can be found in the New General Catalog (source).

Significance of Name Elements

The use of unique symbols and naming elements is significant when identifying and differentiating black holes. For example, an asterisk (*) in the name of a black hole, such as “M87*”, represents the supermassive black hole located at the center of the Messier 87 (M87) galaxy (source).

Sagittarius A* is another noteworthy example of this notation. In this case, the name refers to the believed location of the supermassive black hole situated at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy (source).

In conclusion, though there isn’t a unified naming system for black holes, various elements in their names provide valuable information about their location and nature. Understanding how these naming conventions work can enrich the reader’s knowledge of these astronomical phenomena.

Discovery, Detection, and Classification of Black Holes

Methods of Detection

Black holes are incredibly difficult to detect due to their invisibility, as they emit no visible light. However, scientists have developed various methods to detect them, including:

  • Observing the gravitational effects on nearby stars: When a black hole’s gravitational pull affects a nearby star, it can cause the star to move in an unusual pattern. Tracking these movements can help scientists locate a black hole (source).
  • X-ray emissions: Black holes emit X-rays when they consume matter from nearby celestial bodies. Astronomers can detect these X-rays using specialized observatories and instruments, such as NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (source).
  • Gravitational waves: When two black holes merge, they generate ripples in spacetime called gravitational waves. These waves can be detected using observatories like the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) (source).

Influence on Black Hole Names

Black holes are typically named after the constellations they reside in, combined with an identifying designation. The first known black hole, Cygnus X-1, was named after its location in the constellation Cygnus and its classification as an X-ray source (source).

Astronomers generally divide black holes into three categories based on their mass: stellar-mass, supermassive, and intermediate-mass (source). These categories help scientists understand the black holes’ characteristics and better predict their behaviors.

Other factors that influence the naming of black holes include:

  • Discovering observatory: Black holes may be named after the observatory that first detected them, such as LIGO’s discovery of the black hole GW150914, named for the gravitational wave event associated with its detection (source).
  • Notable astronomers or individuals: In some cases, black holes may be named after influential scientists or individuals, such as Stephen Hawking, who contributed significantly to the understanding of black holes (source).

Famous Black Hole Discoveries and Discoverers

The study of black holes has seen significant contributions from various scientists and researchers over the years. Some of the most famous black hole discoveries and discoverers are:

  • Roger Penrose: A mathematician at the University of Oxford, Penrose was awarded half of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2020 for his work on the formation of black holes in the 1960s. His mathematical proof established that black holes could exist in our universe (source).
  • Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar: The research of this Nobel Prize-winning scientist from the University of Chicago laid the foundation for the discovery of black holes. Chandrasekhar’s theoretical work on the mass limit at which a white dwarf can evolve into a black hole or neutron star paved the way for our understanding of black holes today (source).
  • Stephen Hawking: Contributing significantly to the field of black hole research, Hawking proposed that black holes emit radiation, now called “Hawking radiation.” This discovery helped to bridge the gap between quantum mechanics and general relativity.
  • Louise Webster, Paul Murdin, and Thomas Bolton: These astronomers and a student from the University of Toronto announced the discovery of a massive invisible object in orbit around a blue star over 6,000 light-years away in 1971. The object, an intense X-ray source later named Cygnus X-1, is now recognized as the first compelling evidence of a black hole (source).

In addition to these renowned discoverers, numerous other scientists and researchers have made remarkable contributions to the field of black holes, often pushing the boundaries of conventional astronomical knowledge.

With the ongoing advancements in technology and telescope capabilities, researchers continue to explore the most extreme conditions and strange phenomena in the universe, furthering our understanding of black holes and their surrounding mysteries.

Popular Culture Influences on Black Hole Names

Though scientific names for black holes are typically based on location or identifiers like “M87*”, popular culture has provided inspiration for more creative naming conventions. The famous interstellar phenomena often capture the imaginations of writers, filmmakers, and the general public alike, leading to the adoption of more evocative and memorable names.

In literature, names such as “Gargantua” and “Pantagruel” from Christopher Nolan’s film Interstellar come to mind, based on the works of French author Fran├žois Rabelais. The names reflect the enormous size and power of the black holes depicted in the story while adding an element of curiosity for the audience.

Television series like Star Trek and Doctor Who have also featured black holes with unique names, such as “Sagittarius X” and “The Eye of Harmony.” These names are often inspired by mythology, adding depth and allure to the celestial objects.

Meanwhile, public input and online voting have also shaped black hole naming, as seen in the naming of “Powehi” for the famed M87 black hole. Meaning “embellished dark source of unending creation” in the Hawaiian language, this name reflects a connection to indigenous culture and creation mythologies.

Some proposed names for black holes take on more whimsical or playful tones, inspired by art, music, and other elements of popular culture. Examples include:

  • “Cacophony” – a reference to the chaotic nature of black holes, as suggested by members of the LISA Study Team.
  • “Graveyard” – invoking images of final resting places and the immense mass of collapsed stars within black holes.

Overall, popular culture has undeniably influenced the way we name and perceive black holes, moving beyond scientific designations to create memorable and captivating identities for these mysterious cosmic entities.


Throughout this article, we explored the fascinating topic of black hole names. We learned about the various conventions used to name these mysterious celestial bodies, and how some of them acquired interesting monikers like The Unicorn. The origin of black hole names often lies in their location, mass, or unique properties which make them stand out in the vast universe.

In addition, we discovered that black holes are sometimes named after the scientists who contributed to our understanding of these cosmic phenomena or after the telescopes and observatories that detected them. For instance, some black holes might be named after their Messier or New General Catalogue designations.

Before we conclude, let’s quickly recap some key points from the article:

  • Black holes can be named based on their mass, location, or unique properties.
  • Some are named after the scientists who contributed to their study, or the telescopes that discovered them.
  • The closest black hole to Earth is nicknamed “The Unicorn,” situated approximately 1,500 light-years away.

By understanding the naming conventions and the story behind these intriguing names, we gain valuable insight into the exciting field of black hole research and the scientists dedicated to unraveling their mysteries. The diverse range of names reflects the complexity and vastness of these cosmic wonders, capturing our curiosity and inspiring us to learn more about the enigmatic world of black holes.

Andy Morgan
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