Hubble telescope spots supermassive black hole in smallest known galaxy

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Jun 26, 2015, 11:56 AM EDT (Updated)

You know what they say — big things come in small packages. While digging through some data from NASA’s Hubble telescope, a team of astronomers spotted a supermassive black hole in the smallest galaxy we’ve discovered to date. 

As a report from NASA notes, someone living within the M60-UCD1 dwarf galaxy would have an astounding 1 million stars visible with the naked eye in the night sky. For the sake of comparison, we mere Earthlings can see approximately 4,000 from here. Yeah, that’d be absolutely stunning‚ except for the whole supermassive black hole thing, of course.

The dwarf galaxy is one of the densest known to exist, with 140 million stars jammed within a diameter of about 300 light-years, which is only 1/500th of our galaxy’s diameter. By extrapolating the findings, the report notes that there could be many other compact galaxies in the universe that contain supermassive black holes.

They also believe these dwarf galaxies might also be the “remnants of larger galaxies that were torn apart during collisions with other galaxies,” as opposed to smaller clusters of stars out on their own. University of Utah astronomer Anil Seth, lead author of the study in Nature, noted they don’t know of any other way “you could make a black hole so big in an object this small.”

The report goes on to break down some background on the findings, and what it might mean for dwarf galaxies as a whole:

Black holes are gravitationally collapsed, ultra-compact objects that have a gravitational pull so strong that even light cannot escape. Supermassive black holes -- those with the mass of at least one million stars like our sun -- are thought to be at the centers of many galaxies. The black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy has the mass of four million suns. As heavy as that is, it is less than 0.01 percent of the Milky Way’s total mass. By comparison, the supermassive black hole at the center of M60-UCD1, which has the mass of 21 million suns, is a stunning 15 percent of the small galaxy’s total mass.

Whoa. It’s amazing the things astronomers find the more we poke around among the stars, and it just goes to show we still have a whole lot to learn until we fly out there and start checking all this stuff out in person. On the other hand, maybe we can turn that supermassive blackhole into makeshift Stargate …

(Via NASA)