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article imageStudy: Supermassive black holes grow in small, distant galaxies

By Andrew Moran     Sep 19, 2011 in Science
Los Angeles - Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope are surprised after they discovered supermassive black holes growing in small, distant galaxies. This has led scientists to ask: what came first? The massive galaxy or supermassive black holes?
All large galaxies consist of central supermassive black holes and can shine quite brightly at the central nucleus of the galaxy. However, black holes were thought to be non-existent in small dwarf galaxies.
California astronomers have surprisingly found supermassive black holes forming in small and distant galaxies, according to a press release. Using the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists are researching the faraway universe and their findings suggest central black holes formed during the earlier part of galaxy evolution.
As part of the Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS) study, researchers used the “slitless grism” on Hubble’s powerful WFC3 infrared camera, which provided information about different wavelengths being emitted from different galaxies.
“It's kind of a chicken or egg problem: Which came first, the supermassive black hole or the massive galaxy? This study shows that even low-mass galaxies have supermassive black holes,” said postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Jonathan Trump. “When we look 10 billion years ago, we're looking at the teenage years of the universe. So these are very small, young galaxies.”
Other researchers say that this is the first study of its kind to probe into black holes back in time.
“Up to now, observations of distant galaxies have consistently reinforced the local findings--distant black holes actively accreting in big galaxies only,” said astronomy and astrophysics professor at UC Santa Cruz and CANDELS principle investigator, co-author Sandra Faber. “We now have a big puzzle: What happened to these dwarf galaxies?”
Trump noted that it is possible that some of the small galaxies grew into the monsters that exist today.
The results of this study have been published in the Astrophysical Journal online.
More about supermassive black holes, Galaxies, Hubble space telescope, dwarf galaxies
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