Sep 19, 2014 10:05 AM EDT
Supermassive Black Hole in the Middle of a Dwarf Galaxy is a Unique Rarity, But Probably Not the Last
In a new study, researchers have spotted a supermassive black hole situated in a most unlikely place, right in the middle of a small dwarf galaxy.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the team of astronomers published their study in the journal Nature, which has contradicted the logical thinking that small galaxies have small black holes. M60-UCD1 is the smallest known galaxy to house a supermassive black hole.
The study authors believe this discovery means there are others like this one and that the galaxy could have once been large, but was dwarfed from collisions with other galaxies.
"We don't know of any other way you could make a black hole so big in an object this small," study lead author Anil Seth, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Utah, said in a press release. "There are a lot of similar ultracompact dwarf galaxies, and together they may contain as many supermassive black holes as there are at the centers of normal galaxies."
According to NASA, the black hole in the middle of M60 is five times the mass of the one at the Milky Way's center, making it even more astonishing that the galaxy is a dwarf.
M60 apparently has 140 million stars, though the galaxy is only 300 light years in diameter, or 1/500th the size of the Milky Way. People on Earth can only see about 4,000 stars on a given night, but in M60 skywatchers would be able to see about a million.
"We believe this once was a very big galaxy with maybe 10 billion stars in it, but then it passed very close to the center of an even larger galaxy, M60, and in that process all the stars and dark matter in the outer part of the galaxy got torn away and became part of M60," Seth said in the release. "That was maybe as much as 10 billion years ago. We don't know.
"Eventually, this thing may merge with the center of M60, which has a monster black hole in it, with 4.5 billion solar masses - more than 1,000 times bigger than the supermassive black hole in our galaxy. When that happens, the black hole we found in M60-UCD1 will merge with that monster black hole."
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