Scientists have found the smallest supermassive black hole ever discovered, potentially shedding light on the early years of distant galaxies.
The words "tiny" and "supermassive" are not usually ones you'll find in the same sentence together, but perhaps it's appropriate for a discovery 340 million light years away. RGG 118 is a distant dwarf galaxy that has a supermassive black hole at its center, like galaxies do. At the same time, it's also the smallest supermassive black hole ever discovered, roughly 50,000 times heavier than our Sun when it should be over double the amount.
At the moment, there are two main theories around the relationship between black holes and the galaxies which surround them. One is that supermassive black holes are born from the remains of utterly enormous stars far bigger than our Sun. The second is that gas clouds "feed" black holes until they grow to the size we're familiar with. RGG 118 might make a strong case for the latter theory, since its wee black hole is actively sucking up stars and dust much like a younger galaxy should.
If observations pan out, that means RGG 118 is a much younger galaxy than the Milky Way with its larger, dormant black hole. On top of that, RGG 118 is so small it likely hasn't merged with another galaxy, giving us an ideal look at how galaxies form and black holes develop. "For galaxies like our Milky Way, we don't know what it was like in its youth," University of Michigan doctoral student Vivienne Baldassare explained. "By studying how galaxies like this one are growing and feeding their black holes and how the two are influencing each other, we could gain a better understanding of how galaxies were forming in the early Universe."
However this pans out, studies of this baby supermassive black hole should prove very interesting. That being said, I would not recommend getting close enough to pinch its little cheeks.