Tiny Supermassive Black Hole is the Smallest to Ever be Discovered

First Posted: Aug 12, 2015 09:53 AM EDT

NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has spotted something startling. It's identified the smallest supermassive black hole ever detect in the center of a galaxy. This finding could provide clues as to how larger black holes formed along with their host galaxies 13 billion years or more in the past.

This particular supermassive black hole is about 50,000 times the mass of the sun. This is less than half of the mass of the previous smallest black hole at the center of a galaxy.

"It might sound contradictory, but finding such a small, large black hole is very important," said Vivienne Baldassare, one of the researchers, in a news release. "We can use observations of the lightest supermassive black holes to better understand how black holes of different sizes grow."

The tiny supermassive black hole is in the center of a dwarf disk galaxy, called RGG 118, located about 340 million light-years from Earth. The researchers used Chandra in order to find out the X-ray brightness of hot gas swirling toward the black hole. This revealed that the outward push of radiation pressure of this hot gas is about one percent of the black hole's inward pull of gravity, matching the properties of other supermassive black holes.

"We found this little supermassive black hole behaves very much like its bigger, and in some cases much bigger, cousins," said Amy Reines, co-author of the new study. "This tells us black holes grow in a similar way no matter what their size."

The findings reveal a bit more about supermassive black holes. More specifically, it shows that when it comes to these objects, they are, in some ways, all the same.

The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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