Rule Breaking Black Hole Discovered

M83 - NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (WFC3/UVIS, STScI-PRC14-04a).MQ1 inset - W. P. Blair (Johns Hopkins University) & R. Soria (ICRAR-Curtin)

M83 is a galaxy which is a popular target for astronomers and is currently being mapped in detail by the Hubble Space Telescope, Magellan Telescope, Chandra X-Ray Observatory, Australia Telescope Compact array, and the Very Large Array. Information obtained from the Hubble allowed astronomers to determine the diameter of a small and powerful black hole known as a microquasar.

The galaxy M83, located about 15 million light years away in the Hydra constellation. The galaxy is home to MQ1, a small-yet-mighty black hole. Though the existence of these types of black holes isn’t new, the true size of the central black hole has never before been accurately measured. A team led by Roberta Soria from the International Center for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) has described MQ1's size in detail for the first time. The results were published in Science.

MQ1 is a microquasar, which has some fairly unique properties. The black hole in the center is incredibly small at only about 100 km (62 miles), but it has powerful jets blasting out energy in two opposite directions which each extend out for nearly 20 light years. Researchers believe that MQ1 was formed about 12 billion years ago and that microquasars like it were fairly common early in the Universe’s history.

A black hole that is categorized as a “stellar mass” which are no more than 70 times the mass of our sun, while “supermassive” black holes are millions times more massive. The black hole at the center of our galaxy as well as M83 are considered supermassive, though MQ1 is considered a stellar mass. 

The Milky Way is home to a microquasar named SS433, which is located about 18,000 light years away. Though this was the first of its kind to be discovered and the most powerful in our galaxy, it only has about one-tenth of the power of MQ1. 

Studying microquasars will give astronomers important information about the lifecycle of stars within spiral galaxies, like M83 and the Milky Way. They will also be able to better understand the conditions of the early Universe which allowed these structures to form and how the energy emitted from the jets are affecting the nearby environment.

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