The initial theory asserted that supermassive black holes exist only in super-sized galaxies. But a gigantic black hole towering a cosmic backwater has just challenged that theory.
Scientists found a supermassive black hole that is 17 billion times (!) more massive than our star in a rather small galaxy. This is a surprise since all previously found black holes were detected in bulky galaxies. Researchers are now pondering on the possibility that these cosmic denizens may be more common that they thought.
The matter within black holes is so dense that its gravitational pull doesn’t allow light to escape. The largest known supermassive black hole is 21 billion time the mass of our star. By contrast, the black hole hosted by our galaxy is just 4 million times more massive than the Sun.
Scientists noted that their latest finding is located in a medium-sized galaxy called NGC 1600. Researchers discovered the black hole after they sifted through data on about 100 galaxies within a 300 million light-year range from our planet.
Astronomers speculate that all galaxies host a black hole at their cores. They planned to learn how supermassive these black holes really were.
Chung-Pei Ma, senior researchers involved in the discovery and astronomer at University of California Berkeley, admitted that her team doesn’t yet know whether the newly-discovered black hole is a rare occurrence or NGC 1600 is just ‘the tip of the iceberg.’
There’s a possibility that the black hole was extremely ‘voracious’ in its youth years and engulfed most of the material in its host galaxy, Ma said. Regardless, of the theory, the NGC 1600 black hole is about ten times bigger than scientists would expect for a galaxy of that size.
Ma explained that black holes have a special bond with their galaxies since the size of both space objects greatly depends on the black hole’s appetite in its early years. A supermassive black hole should be no larger than 0.2 percent of its host galaxy, scientists said. But the newly-found black hole accounts for 2.1 percent of NGC 1600’s mass.
One researcher at Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany believes that the host galaxy may be in fact a ‘fossil.’ Jens Thomas of the German institute thinks that NGC 1600 had a quick evolution. A cluster of galaxies must have merged rather fast and left a lot of empty space behind, Thomas said.
Ma’s team, however, have a different theory. They think that the black hole may have a twin. As a follow-up, they plan to conduct gravitational wave surveys to solve the mystery.
A research paper on the new finding was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
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