Astronomers have found a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy in a “sparsely populated” area of the universe, NASA announced yesterday. The finding is important because black holes that size were believed to exist only at the core of very large galaxy clusters. The newly found black hole, observed by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini Telescope in Hawaii, seems to suggest that such black holes are more common that once thought.
“It devoured lots of gas.”
“The newly discovered supersized black hole resides in the center of a massive elliptical galaxy, NGC 1600, located in a cosmic backwater, a small grouping of 20 or so galaxies,” lead discoverer Chung-Pei Ma, an astronomer at the University of California-Berkeley and supermassive black hole expert, said in a statement.
Something else surprised scientists. The massive black hole found in the galaxy NGC 1600, which is located about 200 million light years from Earth, also appears to be 10 times more massive than scientists had predicted for a galaxy the size of NGC 1600. One theory of how the newly discovered monster black hole got so big is that it’s the product of a merger between two black holes. The merger could have happened when two galaxies collided. When galaxies merge, the black holes at the core of each galaxy begin orbiting each other, gobbling up mass until they fuse together and give birth to a new supermassive black hole, which then continues growing.
The near-record breaking black hole weighs 17 billion suns
“To become this massive, the black hole would have had a very voracious phase during which it devoured lots of gas,” Ma said.
Astronomers found the black hole by measuring the velocity of the stars surrounding it. Stars are affected by the black hole’s gravity and calculating their velocity gives astronomers an idea of how big the black hole’s mass is. In this case, the behemoth black hole at the core of NGC 1600 weighs 17 billions suns. The record holder is a monster black hole in the Coma galaxy cluster, which has over 1,000 galaxies; its size is equal to 21 billion suns.