A Supermassive Black Hole Puzzles Scientists by Being 30 Times Bigger than It Should Be

A supermassive black hole at the center of a recently discovered galaxy is far bigger than it should be, about 30 times larger, leaving scientists dazed and confused without knowing the why.

The published paper titled ‘Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society’ is freely available here.

Astrophysics is a branch of science where opinions, theories, and assertions are in a state of constant change, and newly discovered phenomena can leave researchers and experts flummoxed and scrambling for answers.

In a discovery that has left astronomers and space scientists looking to the skies, a recently discovered galaxy, titled SAGE0546AGN that is about 2 billion light-years from our planet, contains at its heart, a supermassive black hole that is far bigger it should be, reports the pressroom at RAS.

Researchers in England at the Keele University and the University of Central Lancashire have proved that current theories of galactic evolution does not coincide with their discovery of a really supermassive black hole by measuring the speed of gas moving around it.

SAGE0546AGN’s Super Massive Blackhole is Beyond Massive

It was NASA’s Spitzer space telescope that initially located SAGE0546AGN in infrared light. Researchers estimate the galaxy to be at least 9 billion years old with an active galactic nucleus (AGN). An AGN is a tremendously bright object that dazzles due to the increasing growth of gas by a central supermassive black hole. The gas is spurred on to great velocities due to the immense forces in play from the black hole’s gravitational field, getting the gas to emit light.

Hollywood's take on theorizing and visualizing gas spinning and dazzling in the clutches of a black hole's gravitational field, in Interstellar. (Courtesy: Warner Bros.)
Hollywood’s take on theorizing and visualizing gas spinning and dazzling in the clutches of a black hole’s gravitational field, in Interstellar. (Courtesy: Warner Bros.)

Here’s how the size of the black hole was measured:

  • Scientists observed an emission line of hydrogen gas in the ‘galaxy spectrum,’ where light is dispersed into the spectrum we know of, akin to a prism effect.
  • When this line of emission broadens as a result of the Doppler Effect, where the wavelength or the color of light from objects studied are blue- or red-shifted, depending on whether they’re approaching us or moving away from us.
  • A broadening degree of the emission line confirmed that the gas is moving at a high speed around the strong gravitational field of the black hole.

Quite simply, the broader the emission line, the bigger the black hole.

Researchers have already discovered that the black hole at the center of SAGE0546AGN is a staggering 350 million times the mass of our Sun. Crucially however, the mass of the galaxy, calculated through various measurements tracing the movements of its stars, is found to be 25 billion solar masses.

While the figure is seventy times larger than the black hole at its center, the black hole itself is thirty times bigger than what galaxies of this size typically contain.

Dr. Jacco van Loon, an astrophysicist at Keele University and the lead author of the new paper summed it up:

Galaxies have a vast mass, and so do the black holes in their cores. This one though is really too big for its boots – it simply shouldn’t be possible for it to be so large.

From what we know of galaxies so far, black holes grow at the same rate as the galaxy does. However, SAGE0546AGN is a significant exception with the black hole growing much faster than it should have. Alternatively, the galaxy may have stopped growing prematurely, according the researchers.

In concluding their article, the Royal Astronomical Society said:

Time will tell whether SAGE0536AGN really is an oddball, or simply the first in a new class of galaxies.

Images from Wikipedia & Warner Brothers.

Samburaj is the contributing editor at Hacked and keeps tabs on science, technology and cyber security.