Astronomers discover a supermassive mini black hole that could provide information about their growth

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Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, researchers have identified a black hole 200,000 times the mass of the Sun in Mrk 462, a dwarf galaxy with only several hundred million stars. In comparison, our Milky Way has a few hundred billion stars. The black hole was buried heavily in gas and dust in the galaxy Mrk 462, 110 million light-years away in the constellation Canes Venatici.

NASA said in a blog post that it is one of the first times a “hidden” supermassive black hole has been found in a dwarf galaxy. Astronomers often find black holes by looking for the rapid movement of stars in the center of galaxies. But dwarf galaxies are too small and too weak for most current instruments to see. A second technique astronomers use to spot black holes is to look for signatures of gas heating up to millions of degrees and glow in X-rays when it falls on a black hole.

Jack Parker of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, who led the study with colleague Ryan Hickox, also from Dartmouth, said the black hole in Mrk 462 was one of the smallest of its kind.

Hickox said this discovery could point to the existence of many more dwarf galaxies with similar black holes, as buried black holes are harder to discover than the exposed ones. He added that this finding could help astronomers answer how black holes got so big so early in the universe.

The researchers on this study used Chandra to examine eight dwarf galaxies that had previously shown evidence of black hole growth. Of them, only Mrk 462 showed the X-ray signature of a growing black hole.

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