Astronomy: Hidden supermassive black hole discovered in dwarf galaxy

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With the Chandra X-ray telescope, one of the smallest supermassive black holes to date was discovered and thus a further indication of the answer to one of the great unanswered questions in astrophysics. The black hole comes to about 200,000 solar masses and is located in the center of the dwarf galaxy Mrk 462. It is therefore probably covered by gas, which makes it even more difficult to find. If it turns out that a large number of such dwarf galaxies are home to such massive black holes, this could indicate that there were many more of them in the young universe than assumed. This, in turn, could explain how the gigantic black holes observed, with a mass of one billion solar masses, could arise after just a few hundred million years.

As the astronomers now explain, black holes are found in larger galaxies, among other things, by evaluating the movements of the stars circling them particularly closely. Dwarf galaxies like Mrk 462 are too small and too faint for that. Other black holes are found because matter falling into them is accelerated and heated to such an extent that enough radiation is generated that observatories can collect here. In the X-ray spectrum, they have now found what they are looking for at Mrk 462. A comparison shows how surprisingly large the black hole there is: The Milky Way consists of around 1000 times as many stars as the dwarf galaxy, but the central black hole of our home galaxy is only 22 times as large as that of Mrk 462.

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The find could help answer the unanswered question of how supermassive black holes could grow to over a billion solar masses before the universe was a billion years old. According to current theories, there was simply not enough time for this. But if more dwarf galaxies have such massive black holes in their centers as Mrk 462, it could be because comparatively small black holes grew much faster than expected in the early universe. But a single find is not enough to draw such far-reaching conclusions, thinks Jack Parker of Dartmouth Collegewho directed the analysis. But it should be enough incentive to look for more. The discovery of an even more massive one in an even smaller dwarf galaxy had only recently been announced.


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