November 29th, 2012 by James Ayre
A black hole 17 billion times the mass of the Sun has been discovered by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. It’s mass is considerably greater than what was thought possible, and is suggesting that currently accepted models of galaxy evolution is flawed. This is especially true because the galaxy that surrounds it is relatively small.
According to current theory and observation, there should be a supermassive black hole at the heart of nearly every galaxy. A supermassive black hole is one “with a mass between that of hundreds of thousands and billions of Suns. The best-studied super-massive black hole sits in the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, with a mass of about four million Suns.”
Through the observation of thousands of galaxies, another trend was noticed. There is a direct relationship between the mass of the black hole and the total mass of the glaxy’s stars.
Usually the black hole mass is only a very limited fraction of the galaxy’s total mass. “But now a search led by Remco van den Bosch (MPIA) has discovered a massive black hole that could upset the accepted relationship between black hole mass and galaxy mass, which plays a key role in all current theories of galaxy evolution. The observations used the Hobby-Eberly Telescope and existing images from the Hubble Space Telescope.”
“With a mass 17 billion times that of the Sun, the newly discovered black hole in the center of the disk galaxy NGC 1277 might even be the biggest known black hole of all: the mass of the current record holder is estimated to lie between 6 and 37 billion solar masses (McConnell et al. 2011); if the true value lies towards the lower end of that range, NGC 1277 breaks the record. At the least, NGC 1277 harbors the second-biggest known black hole.”
“The big surprise is that the black hole mass for NGC 1277 amounts to 14% of the total galaxy mass, instead of usual values around 0,1%. This beats the old record by more than a factor 10. Astronomers would have expected a black hole of this size inside blob-like (“elliptical”) galaxies ten times larger. Instead, this black hole sits inside a fairly small disk galaxy.”
“Is this surprisingly massive black hole a freak accident? Preliminary analysis of additional data suggests otherwise — so far, the search has uncovered five additional galaxies that are comparatively small, yet, going by first estimates, seemed to harbor unusually large black holes too. More definite conclusions have to await detailed images of these galaxies.”
“If the additional candidates are confirmed, and there are indeed more black holes like this, astronomers will need to rethink fundamentally their models of galaxy evolution. In particular, they will need to look at the early universe: The galaxy hosting the new black hole appears to have formed more than 8 billion years ago, and does not appear to have changed much since then. Whatever created this giant black hole must have happened a long time ago.”
Image Credits: NASA / ESA / Andrew C. Fabian / Remco C. van den Bosch (MPIA)
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