Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Supermassive black holes found in 2 tiny galaxies

18.04.2017

Black holes may lurk in most ultra-compact dwarf remnants of shredded galaxies

Three years ago, a University of Utah-led team discovered that an ultra-compact dwarf galaxy contained a supermassive black hole, then the smallest known galaxy to harbor such a giant black hole. The findings suggested that the dwarfs were likely tiny leftovers of larger galaxies that were stripped of their outer layers after colliding into other, larger galaxies.


The astronomers measured the movement of the stars using the Gemini North telescope located on Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii. They applied a technique known as adaptive optics to the ultra-compact dwarf galaxies to correct for distortions caused by the Earth's atmosphere.

Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA

Now, the same group of U astronomers and colleagues have found two more ultra-compact dwarf galaxies with supermassive black holes. Together, the three examples suggest that black holes lurk at the center of most of these objects, potentially doubling the number of supermassive black holes known in the universe. The black holes make up a high percentage of the compact galaxies' total mass, supporting the theory that the dwarfs are remnants of massive galaxies that were ripped apart by larger galaxies.

"We still don't fully understand how galaxies form and evolve over time. These objects can tell us how galaxies merge and collide," says Chris Ahn, doctoral candidate in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, and lead author of the international study that published Monday in The Astrophysical Journal. "Maybe a fraction of the centers of all galaxies are actually these compact galaxies stripped of their outer parts."

Measuring galaxies

The authors measured two ultra-compact dwarf galaxies, named VUCD3 and M59cO, that lie far beyond the spiral arms of our Milky Way, orbiting massive galaxies in the Virgo galaxy cluster. They detected a supermassive black hole in both galaxies; VUCD3's black hole has a mass equivalent to 4.4 million suns, making up about 13 percent of the galaxy's total mass, and M59cO's black hole has a mass of 5.8 million suns, making up about 18 percent of its total mass.

By comparison, the monstrous black hole at the center of the Milky Way has a mass of 4 million suns, but makes up less than .01 percent of the galaxy's total mass.

"It's pretty amazing when you really think about it. These ultra-compact dwarfs are around 0.1 percent the size of the Milky Way, yet they host supermassive black holes that are bigger than the black hole at the center of our own galaxy," marvels Ahn.

To calculate the ultra-compact dwarf galaxies' mass, the astronomers measured the movement of the stars using the Gemini North telescope located on Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii. The astronomers have to correct for the distortions caused by Earth's atmosphere. They shot a laser into the sky to make a fake little star, and moved a mirror around hundreds of times a second to undo the distortion. They then applied the technique to the ultra-compact dwarf galaxies, which are so small that the corrections are necessary to measure the motions inside the object. The technique, known as adaptive optics, brings the once blurry galaxy into focus.

They also analyzed images from the Hubble Space Telescope to measure the distribution of the stars in each galaxy, and created a computer simulation that best fit their observations.

They found that the motion of the stars at the center of the galaxies moved much faster than those on the outside, a classic signature of a black hole. VUCD3 and M59cO are the second and third ultra-compact dwarf galaxies found to contain a supermassive black hole, suggesting that all such dwarfs may harbor similarly massive light-sucking objects.

Ultra-compact dwarf galaxy mysteries

Astronomers discovered ultra-compact dwarf galaxies in the late 1990s. The objects are made up of hundreds of millions of stars densely packed together on an average of 100 light years across. Scientists took measurements to see what was happening inside the galaxies, and something didn't add up; the ultra-compact dwarf galaxies had more mass than their stars alone could account for. Senior author Anil Seth, assistant professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the U, led the 2014 study that found the first ultra-compact dwarf galaxy with a supermassive black hole. The two U-led studies make a strong case that supermassive black holes at the center of the galaxies are responsible for the extra mass.

An alternate theory of the dwarfs is that they are just really massive star clusters -- groups of a hundred thousand stars born at the same time. The largest star cluster in the Milky Way is three million stars, and ultra-compact dwarf galaxies are 10 to 100 times bigger than that. "The question was, 'Is that because they form bigger star clusters with the same process? Or are they different in some way?' This work shows that they are different," Seth continues.

"It's obvious in retrospect, because the center of a regular galaxy looks almost exactly like these objects, but that wasn't what most people thought they were. I wasn't convinced that we were going to find a black hole when I took the observations," says Seth. "This is a cool example of scientific discovery and how quickly you can reorient our understanding of the universe."

Black holes and the formation of galaxies

Black holes are areas with such strong gravity that not even light can escape. They form when stars collapse, leaving behind a black hole with dense mass that exerts gravitational force on the objects around it. Supermassive black holes have a mass of more than 1 million suns, and are thought to be at the center of all big galaxies.

One explanation for the supermassive black hole inside the ultra-compact dwarf galaxies is that the galaxies were once made up of billions of stars. The authors believe that the dwarfs were "swallowed up" and ripped apart by the gravity of much larger galaxies. The ultra-compact dwarf black hole is the remnant of its formerly massive size. The findings change the way that astronomers can piece together how galaxies form and evolve over time.

"We know that galaxies merge and combine all the time -- that's how galaxies evolve. Our Milky Way is eating up galaxies as we speak," says Seth. "Our general picture of how galaxies form is that little galaxies merge to form big galaxies. But we have a really incomplete picture of that. The ultra-compact dwarf galaxies provide us a longer timeline to be able to look at what's happened in the past."

Media Contact

Lisa Potter
lisa.potter@utah.edu
949-533-7899

 @uofunews

http://www.unews.utah.edu/ 

Lisa Potter | EurekAlert!

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Structured light and nanomaterials open new ways to tailor light at the nanoscale
23.04.2018 | Academy of Finland

nachricht On the shape of the 'petal' for the dissipation curve
23.04.2018 | Lobachevsky University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Molecules Brilliantly Illuminated

Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.

Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

Im Focus: Basel researchers succeed in cultivating cartilage from stem cells

Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.

Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Structured light and nanomaterials open new ways to tailor light at the nanoscale

23.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

On the shape of the 'petal' for the dissipation curve

23.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Clean and Efficient – Fraunhofer ISE Presents Hydrogen Technologies at the HANNOVER MESSE 2018

23.04.2018 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>