How Big Is a Black Hole? (But Actually)

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Today on Twitter, I encountered this GIF:

It shows how much mass is in the super-large black holes that anchor galaxies within space. By extension, too, it shows how many things 20 billion is.

It is, in my opinion, a very good GIF.

Now, black holes aren’t only a reflection of mass, but also of density. Lots of matter in a very compressed space makes a black hole. So as the source video for the above animation makes clear, the Earth could become a black hole— it would just have to be compressed smaller than its Schwarzschild radius, or, specifically, to about the size of a peanut.