No Outside Help

The galaxy designated NGC 1277 has been known since 1875, and is approximately 220 million light years away. Its recently-discovered claim to fame is the supermassive black hole at its centre. Such black holes are not themselves strange (every galaxy is believed to have one), and even the fact that NGC 1227’s is either the largest or second largest known is not what’s important here. Instead, the strange thing is that this particular black hole makes up about 14% of the mass of the entire galaxy – compare that to the usual figure of 0.1% for most galaxies, and 0.01% for our own. In the above video lead author Remco van den Bosch explains the discovery, or alternatively you can read this Max Planck Institute press release, the relevant page at van den Bosch’s website, Phil Plait’s article at Bad Astronomy, or the paper itself (arXiv preprint here).

Now, there is a vague correlation between the mass of a black hole and that of its host galaxy. I say vague for two reasons: first, because we haven’t measured (and can’t measure) this information for all that many galaxies as they need to be fairly close to us for our methods to work; and second, because this galaxy makes quite the exception, doesn’t it? This subject comes up because Brian Thomas’ latest article is called Massive Black Hole Disrupts Galaxy Formation Theories – which is true, actually, to a certain way of looking at it. Continue reading