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Smallest Known Galaxy with a Supermassive Black Hole

Many Black Holes May Hide in Dwarf Remnants of Stripped Galaxies

Sept. 17, 2014 – A University of Utah astronomer and his colleagues discovered that an ultracompact dwarf galaxy harbors a supermassive black hole – the smallest galaxy known to contain such a massive light-sucking object. The finding suggests huge black holes may be more common than previously believed.

University of Utah astronomer Anil Seth led a new study by an international team that discovered an ultracompact dwarf galaxy named M60-UCD1 is the smallest galaxy known to contain a supermassive black hole, likely because the dwarf galaxy was stripped of its outer stars and material by gravity from the much larger galaxy named M60. Photo Credit: Janet Iwasa, University of Utah

“It is the smallest and lightest object that we know of that has a supermassive black hole,” says Anil Seth, lead author of an international study of the dwarf galaxy published in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature. “It’s also one of the most black hole-dominated galaxies known.”

The astronomers used the Gemini North 8-meter optical-and-infrared telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea and photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope to discover that a small galaxy named M60-UCD1 has a black hole with a mass equal to 21 million suns.

Their finding suggests plenty of other ultracompact dwarf galaxies likely also contain supermassive black holes – and those dwarfs may be the stripped remnants of larger galaxies that were torn apart during collisions with yet other galaxies.

“We don’t know of any other way you could make a black hole so big in an object this small,” says Seth, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Utah. “There are a lot of similar ultracompact dwarf galaxies, and together they may contain as many supermassive black holes as there are at the centers of normal galaxies.”

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