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Galactic merger reveals an unusual star-deprived black hole

For Release: January 6, 2016


SDSS J1126+2944
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Colorado/J.Comerford et al; Optical: NASA/STScI

In a season of post-holiday gym memberships, an unusually star-deprived black hole at the site of two merged galaxies is showing that these massive gravitational voids can shed weight too.

The recently discovered black hole, which does not have the expected number of stars surrounding it, could provide new insight into black hole evolution and behavior, according to recently published research from the University of Colorado Boulder.

The findings were announced today during a news briefing at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) being held this week in Kissimmee, Florida.

Supermassive black holes exist at the centers of all massive galaxies, including the Milky Way, and contain a mass of between 1 million and 1 billion times that of the sun. The mass of a black hole tends to scale with the mass of its galaxy, and each black hole is typically embedded within a large sphere of stars.

The galaxy SDSS J1126+2944 is the result of a merger between two smaller galaxies, which brought together a pair of supermassive black holes. One of the black holes is surrounded by a typical amount of stars, but the other black hole is strangely “naked” and has a much lower number of associated stars than expected.

“One black hole is starved of stars, and has 500 times fewer stars associated with it than the other black hole,” said Julie Comerford, an assistant professor in CU-Boulder’s Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences and the lead investigator of the new research. “The question is why there’s such a discrepancy.”

One possibility, said Comerford, is that extreme gravitational and tidal forces simply stripped away most of the stars from one of the black holes over the course of the galactic merger.

The other possibility, however, is that the merger actually reveals a rare “intermediate” mass black hole, with a mass of between 100 and 1 million times that of the sun. Intermediate mass black holes are predicted to exist at the centers of dwarf galaxies and thus have a lower number of associated stars. These intermediate mass black holes can grow and one day become supermassive black holes.

“Theory predicts that intermediate black holes should exist, but they are difficult to pinpoint because we don’t know exactly where to look,” said Scott Barrows, a postdoctoral researcher at CU-Boulder who co-authored the study. “This unusual galaxy may provide a rare glimpse of one of these intermediate mass black holes.”

If galaxy SDSS J1126+2944 does indeed contain an intermediate black hole, it would provide researchers with an opportunity to test the theory that supermassive black holes evolve from these lower-mass ‘seed’ black holes.

Images of the galaxy SDSS J1126+2944 were taken with the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, a NASA-operated orbital X-ray telescope.

Details of the research were recently published in The Astrophysical Journal. The article is also publicly available at arXiv.

Media Contacts:

Julie Comerford, 303-242-2181
Trent Knoss, CU-Boulder media relations, 303-735-0528

Visitor Comments (10)

Interesting, will you be able to tell if the stripped black hole is in fact an Intermediate one?

Posted by John on Saturday, 04.7.18 @ 09:41am

This is way over my pay grade but unbelievably fascinating.

Posted by gin arnold on Saturday, 01.7.17 @ 14:42pm

Excellent work.

Posted by aleena on Wednesday, 06.29.16 @ 19:17pm

Thanks for this Information

Posted by Monica Chrisandtras HINES on Wednesday, 05.4.16 @ 11:58am

A so called black hole is an electromagnetic positron which attracts neutron stars to its center. By centrifugal force the neutron stars are reduced to primal matter, forming the nucleus of an atomic reaction whose explosive force releases primordial particles into the unknown depths of space. Thus is born another galaxy. The proof of this will be found in bumps in the thermal background which reflect the nature of galactic reproduction in the known universe.

Posted by graham harris on Tuesday, 01.26.16 @ 17:02pm

Very interesting. Congratulations.

Posted by Dr.Amalia Kokkinou on Friday, 01.22.16 @ 08:42am

Is there no sign of a small-angle galactic black hole jet?

Posted by Fred E. Howard, Jr. on Monday, 01.4.16 @ 12:03pm

FASCINATING and congratulations on imaging this amazing occurrence. Much appreciation for not only sharing the image to laymen... but also for the tantalizing article

Posted by Elizabeth on Tuesday, 12.29.15 @ 00:39am

Thank You for the newsletter. I don't think we humans are alone in the Universe.

Posted by romano on Tuesday, 12.22.15 @ 21:17pm

Very good article. Easy to follow. Continue the explorations. After all, we must keep observing our universe. How else will we know what's happening out there.

Posted by Noreen Ramkhelawan on Tuesday, 12.22.15 @ 17:08pm