A group of astronomers has discovered a “super-mass” black hole containing about 200,000 times the mass of the Sun. And this “monster” buried in the dust and gas of a dwarf galaxy could add to knowledge about the size and origin of black holes.
The discovery, presented at a virtual meeting of the American Astronomical Society on Monday, marks one of the first cases in which scientists have been able to observe a “blocked” black hole in a galaxy with only hundreds of millions of stars. This particular dwarf galaxy is called Mrk 462.
Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, researchers from Dartmouth College studied eight dwarf galaxies believed to contain an active supermassive black hole by searching for the extremely bright, high-energy radiation emitted by the heat from the accretion (growth) process.
And the X-ray signature of ‘feeding’ a black hole has been identified only in Mrk 462. The “unusually large density” of its high-energy radiation and other factors indicate that this particular black hole was “deeply obscured” by gas and dust clouds.
“Because buried black holes are more difficult to detect than exposed ones, finding this example could mean that there are plenty of dwarf galaxies with similar black holes,” co-author Ryan Hickox said in a NASA statement.
The discovery lends credence to theories that some supermassive black holes grow rapidly from smaller-mass “stellar seeds” rather than really large in the early universe. Finding more dwarf galaxies with supermassive black holes will also bolster this idea.