Astronomers Find "Monster" Black Hole Formed from Three-Galaxy Collision

Wednesday, 27 April 2016 - 11:16AM
Astrophysics
Black Holes
Wednesday, 27 April 2016 - 11:16AM
Astronomers Find "Monster" Black Hole Formed from Three-Galaxy Collision
The black hole at the center of our galaxy is extremely large--4 million times the mass of our Sun--but a newly discovered black hole makes it look like a needle prick. Astronomers just found a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy that was formed from three spiral galaxies that are in the midst of a collision.

The black hole was discovered after the observation of an astrophysical maser in the faraway galaxy IRAS 20100-4156. A maser is an emission from a galaxy that can be detected as radio waves from Earth, and lead author Dr Lisa Harvey-Smith from CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science decided to test the spectrum of radio waves emitted from this maser. She discovered that the gas in the maser was moving twice as fast as previously thought, at 600 km/s. Since the velocity of the gas is dependent on the gravity of the black hole, this led to the discovery of the gargantuan size of the black hole, which was caused by the merger of the central black holes of three different galaxies.

Opening quote
"The black hole at the centre of our galaxy is only 4 million solar masses, so this one is a monster in comparison," Harvey-Smith told the ABC. "This very fast motion of the gas tells us about how massive the black hole is. The really exciting thing about this is it is a direct measurement of the mass of the black hole by stuff that's swirling around it."
Closing quote

When galaxies' black holes merge to become supermassive black holes, they become hotbeds for star formation, a phenomenon called a "starburst." During a starburst, stars form hundreds of times more quickly, which enables astronomers from Earth to see the galaxy, even from many light years away. As a result, studying supermassive black holes may shed light on early galaxy formation.

Opening quote
"We want to know whether galaxy collisions, and the formation of supermassive black holes, have really driven the star formation rates that we see in galaxies and how that's changed throughout time," said Harvey-Smith.
Closing quote
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