Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Star cluster surrounds wayward black hole in cannibal galaxy

Date:
February 17, 2012
Source:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Summary:
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope may have found evidence for a cluster of young, blue stars encircling one of the first intermediate-mass black holes ever discovered. Astronomers believe the black hole may once have been at the core of a now-disintegrated unseen dwarf galaxy. The discovery of the black hole and the possible star cluster has important implications for understanding the evolution of supermassive black holes and galaxies.

This spectacular edge-on galaxy, called ESO 243-49, is home to an intermediate-mass black hole that may have been stripped off of a cannibalized dwarf galaxy. The estimated 20,000-solar-mass black hole lies above the galactic plane. This is an unlikely place for such a massive back hole to exist, unless it belonged to a small galaxy that was gravitationally torn apart by ESO 243-49. The circle identifies a unique X-ray source that pinpoints the black hole. The X-rays are believed to be radiation from a hot accretion disk around the black hole. The blue light not only comes from a hot accretion disk, but also from a cluster of hot young stars that formed around the black hole. The galaxy is 290 million light-years from Earth. Hubble can't resolve the stars individually because the suspected cluster is too far away. Their presence is inferred from the color and brightness of the light coming from the black hole's location.
Credit: NASA; ESA; and S. Farrell, Sydney Institute for Astronomy, University of Sydney

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope may have found evidence for a cluster of young, blue stars encircling one of the first intermediate-mass black holes ever discovered. Astronomers believe the black hole may once have been at the core of a now-disintegrated unseen dwarf galaxy. The discovery of the black hole and the possible star cluster has important implications for understanding the evolution of supermassive black holes and galaxies.

Astronomers know how massive stars collapse to form black holes but it is not clear how supermassive black holes, which can weigh billions of times the mass of our sun, form in the cores of galaxies. One idea is that supermassive black holes may build up through the merger of smaller black holes.

Sean Farrell of the Sydney Institute for Astronomy in Australia discovered a middleweight black hole in 2009 using the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton X-ray space telescope. Known as HLX-1 (Hyper-Luminous X-ray source 1), the black hole has an estimated weight of about 20,000 solar masses. It lies towards the edge of the galaxy ESO 243-49, 290 million light-years from Earth.

Farrell then observed HLX-1 simultaneously with NASA's Swift observatory in X-ray and Hubble in near infrared, optical and ultraviolet wavelengths. The intensity and the color of the light may indicate the presence of a young, massive cluster of blue stars, perhaps 250-light-years across, encircling the black hole. Hubble can't resolve the stars individually because the suspected cluster is too far away. The brightness and color is consistent with other clusters of stars seen in other galaxies, but some of the light may be coming from the gaseous disk around the black hole.

"Before this latest discovery, we suspected that intermediate-mass black holes could exist, but now we understand where they may have come from," Farrell said. "The fact that there seems to be a very young cluster of stars indicates that the intermediate-mass black hole may have originated as the central black hole in a very-low-mass dwarf galaxy. The dwarf galaxy might then have been swallowed by the more massive galaxy, just as happens in our Milky Way."

From the signature of the X-rays, Farrell's team knew there would be some blue light emitted from the high temperature of the hot gas in the disk swirling around the black hole. They couldn't account for the red light coming from the disk. It would have to be produced by a much cooler gas, and they concluded this would most likely come from stars. The next step was to build a model that added the glow from a population of stars. These models favor the presence of a young massive cluster of stars encircling the black hole, but this interpretation is not unique, so more observations are needed. In particular, the studies led by Roberto Soria of the Australian International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, using data from Hubble and the ground-based Very Large Telescope, show variations in the brightness of the light that a star cluster couldn't cause. This indicates that irradiation of the disk itself might be the dominant source of visible light, rather than a massive star cluster.

"What we can definitely say with our Hubble data is that we require both emission from an accretion disk and emission from a stellar population to explain the colors we see," said Farrell.

Such young clusters of stars are commonly found inside galaxies like the host galaxy, but not outside the flattened starry disk, as found with HLX-1. One possible scenario is that the HLX-1 black hole was the central black hole in a dwarf galaxy. The larger host galaxy may then have captured the dwarf. In this conjecture, most of the dwarf's stars would have been stripped away through the collision between the galaxies. At the same time, new, young stars would have formed in the encounter. The interaction that compressed the gas around the black hole would then have also triggered star formation.

Farrell theorizes that the possible star cluster may be less than 200 million years old. This means that the bulk of the stars formed following the dwarf's collision with the larger galaxy. The age of the stars tells how long ago the two galaxies crashed into each other.

Farrell proposed for more observations this year. The new findings are published in the February 15 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. Soria and his colleagues have published their alternative conclusions in the January 17 online issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. S. Farrell, M. Servillat, J. Pforr, T. Maccarone, C. Knigge, O. Godet, C. Maraston, N. Webb, D. Barret, A. Gosling, R. Belmont, K. Wiersema. A Young Massive Stellar Population Around the Intermediate Mass Black Hole ESO 243-49 HLX-1. Astrophysical Journal Letters, 2012 (in press) [link]

Cite This Page:

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. "Star cluster surrounds wayward black hole in cannibal galaxy." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 February 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120217145914.htm>.
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. (2012, February 17). Star cluster surrounds wayward black hole in cannibal galaxy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120217145914.htm
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. "Star cluster surrounds wayward black hole in cannibal galaxy." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120217145914.htm (accessed August 27, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

Newsy (Aug. 23, 2014) The private spaceflight company says it is preparing a thorough investigation into Friday's mishap. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) Russian cosmonauts say they've found evidence of sea plankton on the International Space Station's windows. NASA is a little more skeptical. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Hello Georges

Space to Ground: Hello Georges

NASA (Aug. 18, 2014) Europe's ATV-5 delivers new science and the crew tests smart SPHERES. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tiny Satellites, Like The One Tossed From ISS, On The Rise

Tiny Satellites, Like The One Tossed From ISS, On The Rise

Newsy (Aug. 18, 2014) The Chasqui I, hand-delivered into orbit by a Russian cosmonaut, is one of hundreds of small satellites set to go up in the next few years. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Black Hole Came from a Shredded Galaxy

Feb. 15, 2012 Astronomers have found a cluster of young, blue stars encircling the first intermediate-mass black hole ever discovered. The presence of the star cluster suggests that the black hole was once at the ... read more
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins