One of these things is not like the other: Astronomers have spotted a dwarf galaxy that spans just 3,000 light years across (as opposed to our Milky Way’s diameter of 100,000 light years), but hosts an outsize supermassive black hole for its puny size.
Some smaller galaxies have supermassive black holes as well, but in general these dwarf galaxies have some structure to them, with a well-defined core. Henize 2-10, as you can see, it a mess! It doesn’t have much overall structure, which is why it’s classified as an irregular galaxy. The thinking for big galaxies is that the black hole forms at the same time as the galaxy itself, and to regulate the growth of each other. When you look at lots of big galaxies, there’s a pretty clear overall correlation between the mass of the black hole and the galaxy around it.
So it’s pretty weird that Henize 2-10 has a supermassive black hole at all, but it turns out the hole is also about a million times the mass of the Sun — that’s pretty freakin’ big for such a tiny galaxy! That’s 1/4 the mass of our own black hole, in a galaxy that itself is far smaller than ours.
For more details about this weird galaxy, check out the rest of this post at Bad Astronomy. And for more galaxy-black hole weirdness, read last week’s 80beats post about whether mergers of galaxies truly cause supermassive black holes to become hyperactive.
80beats: Study: Hyperactive Black Holes Aren’t Caused by Galactic Smash-ups
80beats: LHC’s Lack of Black Holes Rules Out Some Versions of String Theory
80beats: Far-Off Quasar Could Be the Spark That Ignites a Galaxy
80beats: Researchers Spot an Ancient Starburst from the Universe’s Dark Ages
Image: Reines, et al., NRAO/AUI/NSF, NASA
A fascinating discovery from today’s edition of the journal Science: Astronomers from Germany report a new exoplanet with two startling characteristics. First, it closely orbits a star that has already exhausted its hydrogen supply and moved past the red giant stage, so this hot Jupiter has so far survived without being evaporated (despite its proximity—just 0.12 astronomical units).
But second, and most striking: This planet and star came from another galaxy.
OK, first, this planet is in our own Milky Way galaxy. The star, called HIP 13044, is about 2000 light years away, well inside our galaxy. So how do we know it’s from a different galaxy? All the stars in our galaxy orbit the galactic center, like planets orbit around a star. But many years ago, astronomers noticed that many stars in the sky have the same sort of motion as they orbit, as if they all belong to streams of stars, flowing like water in a river. Many such streams exist, and eventually astronomers figured out that these were the leftover remnants of entire small galaxies that had collided with, been torn apart, and basically eaten by our Milky Way.
HIP 13044 is part of one of those streams, called the Helmi Stream. It’s the remains of a dwarf galaxy the Milky Way tore apart probably more than 6 billion years ago. So the star and its planet formed in an actual other galaxy, one that either orbited the Milky Way or had an unfortunately too-close pass to it. Either way, wow!
During a web conference this morning, study coauthor Rainer Klement said we shouldn’t be surprised the star and planet are still together even though our galaxy tore theirs apart. Galaxies are structures of stars, but the stars themselves are still so far away that even during a galactic breakup they don’t pass near enough to one another to gravitationally influence a planet. “The timescale upon which such stars play a role is larger than the age of the universe,” he said.
Read the rest of Phil’s post at Bad Astronomy.
80beats: Astronomers Predict a Bonanza of Earth-Sized Exoplanets
80beats: Um… That “Goldilocks” Exoplanet May Not Exist
Discoblog: So, How Long Would It Take to Travel to That Exciting New Exoplanet?
DISCOVER: How Long Until We Find a Second Earth?
The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope may have just gotten a hint in its hunt for the mysterious dark matter that is thought to make up the bulk of the universe’s mass. A group of astrophysicists has run a simulation of the distribution of dark matter in a galaxy like our Milky Way, and say that if the telescope scans the right region of space it may be able to detect gamma rays given off by collisions between the particles that are thought to make up dark matter (which have never been directly detected, and are still speculative).
Previously, some cosmologists have proposed that the best chance of a detection lies in nearby dwarf galaxies, since they should contain dense nuggets of dark matter that could be relatively easy to pinpoint. But a new study argues that a diffuse dark matter ‘halo’ surrounding the Milky Way offers an even better shot at glimpsing the mysterious stuff. “I would bet on it,” says lead author Volker Springel…. “And I’d be willing to risk a bit of money as well” [New Scientist].
Just beyond the Milky Way, astronomers have found an extremely dim dwarf galaxy that appears to have just a few hundred stars, but is surprisingly massive. Researchers say the galaxy, called Segue 1, must be packed with mysterious dark matter in order to give it such bulk.
Dark matter has never been directly detected, and its presence can only be deduced: Although dark matter doesn’t emit or absorb light, scientists can measure its gravitational effect on ordinary matter and believe it makes up about 85 percent of the total mass in the universe. Dark matter is thought to play a crucial role in galaxy formation, perhaps by contributing to the clumps that stimulate star formation in a budding galaxy and by contributing to the overall matter of a galaxy that allows it to lure other matter and galaxies inward in a growth-by-merger process [SPACE.com].