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Oxymoronic Black Hole Provides Clues to Growth


A Sloan Digital Sky Survey image of RGG 118, a galaxy containing the smallest supermassive black hole ever detected. The inset is a Chandra image showing hot gas around the black hole.
Credits: NASA/CXC/Univ of Michigan/V.F.Baldassare, et al; Optical: SDSS
Space scientists using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the 6.5-meter Clay Telescope in Chile have discovered the smallest supermassive black hole ever found in the middle of a galaxy. This oxymoronic object could offer clues to how larger black holes formed along with their host clusters more than 13 billion years in the past.

A Sloan Digital Sky Survey image of RGG 118, a galaxy containing the smallest supermassive black hole ever detected. The inset is a Chandra image showing hot gas around the black hole.

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Credit: NASA/CXC/Univ of Michigan/V.F.Baldassare, et al; Optical: SDSS

Space scientist estimate that this supermassive black hole mass is more than 50,000 times the mass of the sun. This is less than half the mass of the preceding smallest black hole at the center of a galaxy.
Vivienne Baldassare of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said “It might sound contradictory, but finding such a small, large black hole is very important. We can use observations of the lightest supermassive black holes to better understand how black holes of different sizes grow.” Vivienne is the first author of a paper on these results published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The tiny heavyweight black hole is in the middle of a dwarf disk galaxy, named RGG 118, and originally discovered using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, located about 340 million light years from Earth.
Scientists estimated the mass of the heavyweight black hole by studying the wave of cool gas near the middle of the galaxy using observable light data from the Clay Telescope. They found the external push of radiation pressure of this hot gas is about 1% of the black hole’s internal pull of gravity, matching the properties of other supermassive black holes.
At an earlier time, researchers had noted a relationship between the mass of supermassive black holes and the variety of velocities of stars in the center of their host galaxy. This relationship also holds for RGG 118 and its black hole.
Co-author Amy Reines of the University of Michigan said “We found this little supermassive black hole behaves very much like its bigger, and in some cases much bigger, cousins. This tells us black holes grow in a similar way no matter what their size.”
Astronomers are trying to understand the formation of billion-solar-mass black holes from less than a billion years after the big bang, but several are undetectable with existing technology. The black hole in RGG 118 offers scientists an occasion to study a nearby small supermassive black hole.

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