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Astronomers Find Ultimate Oxymoron: A Small Supermassive Black Hole

Article Updated: 23 Dec , 2015
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There’s jumbo shrimp and accurate rumors; now there’s even a mini supermassive black hole. Astronomers have identified the smallest supermassive black hole ever observed, and while it’s considered a shrimp as far as supermassive black holes go, this guy is still pretty big: the mass of the black hole in galaxy NGC 4178 is estimated to be about 200,000 times the mass of our Sun. But it was a surprise that this galaxy had a black hole at all.

Astronomers using the Chandra X-Ray Observatory in conjunction with other observatories took a look at NGC 4178, a late-type spiral galaxy located about 55 million light years from Earth. It does not contain a bright central concentration, or bulge, of stars in its center, and so it was thought that perhaps this galaxy was one of the few that didn’t harbor a black hole.

With using Chandra’s X-Ray vision, as well as infrared data the NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and radio data from the Very Large Array, Nathan Secrest, from George Mason University and his team identified a weak X-ray source at the center of the galaxy, and also saw varying brightness at infrared wavelengths, suggesting that a black hole was actually in the center of NGC 4178 and was pulling in material from its surroundings. The same data also suggested that light generated by this infalling material is heavily absorbed by gas and dust and was therefore surrounding a black hole.

They were able to estimate the size of the black hole by using the known relationship between the mass of a black hole and the amount of X-rays and radio waves it generates.

While this is the lowest mass supermassive black holes ever observed, astronomers admit this is probably near the extreme low-mass end of being in the “supermassive” range. And as the team pointed out in their paper, there is increasing evidence that several late-type galaxies do host supermassive black holes, and that a classical bulge is not a requirement for a supermassive black hole to form and grow.

Read the team’s paper.

Source: NASA

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7 Responses

  1. gigawit says:

    what you are referring to here is not an Oxymoron. Jumbo Shrip, et al are contradictions in terms, An Oxymoron is a rare poetic device that takes a seeming contradiction and imbuse it with possibly the most powerful of of emotional charges.
    The most famous oxymoron Shakespeare places in the mouth of of Romeo in the orchard scene. It describes perfectly the emotional state of young lovers.
    “parting is such sweet sorrow”
    The mini supermassive black hole is an amusing contradiction in terms, but is pale in comparison with Sweet sorrow which is a poetic and emotional supernova, aka, an oxymoron.

    • The Latinist says:

      I must disagree with your opinion that oxymora must be “imbue[d] with possibly the most powerful of emotional charges.” While oxymora have indeed been used with great effectiveness to that end by some authors, they can also be used for humorous effect or with other effects implying no emotional content. To write a subset of the effects of a literary device into its definition is unnecessarily restrictive and proscriptive.

      Furthermore, if you are a lover of language, you must be aware that languages and words evolve and take on new meanings. The use of oxymoron to refer to an incidental contradiction in terms, especially one with humorous effect, is now common parlance popularized by none other than William F. Buckley.

      • gigawit says:

        “I must disagree with your opinion that oxymora must be “imbue[d] with possibly the most powerful of emotional charges.”
        I never said Oxymora must be imbued with anything. I did say the “possibly” in relation to emotional charge.

        “they can also be used for humorous effect or with other effects implying no emotional content”
        Humor evokes emotion, so I do not see where my statement contadicts what you are saying. Secondly, without emotional content an oxymoron is a cotradiction in terms. Or, are you saying that Oxymoron and contradiction in terms are exact synonyms?
        “To write a subset of the effects of a literary device into its definition is unnecessarily restrictive and proscriptive.”

        This is, by definition, what definitions do.
        ” you must be aware that languages and words evolve and take on new meanings.”
        Certainly. But in this case, we are witnessing the obliteration of the true meaning of both Oxymoron and contradiction in terms by combining them into a definition that is neither fish nor fowl. Here, not only is a very exact word, Oxymoron, watered down to mean “contradiction in terms”, but “contradiction in terms” slowly drops out of common parlance. Both effect the richness of the language. So, instead of having a phrase that describes perfectly a logical fallacy and and a word that specifically describes a poetic and/or rhetorical device we are left with a phrase that doesn’t adequately describe either.

        As far as William Buckley is concerned, God rest his soul. He should spend at least some time in Purgatory to purge his soul of this very venal “popularization”
        I would also suggest, if you are a lover of words, you should point out their error to those who use oxymoron when they mean “contradiction in terms.”

        I would also think that would be most especially the case when used by a publication as learned as Universe Today

      • The Latinist says:

        What you said was, “An Oxymoron is a rare poetic device that takes a seeming contradiction and imbuse [sic] it with possibly the most powerful of of emotional charges.” You did not say that it could “possibly” have that effect, you merely allowed that the effect might not be the most powerful of emotional effects.

        As for what I meant, I think it is pretty clear that you are being unnecessarily and pretentiously proscriptivist.

  2. Technically, all black holes are small for their mass. Its what makes them black holes.

  3. JonHanford says:

    And still no black hole (over 3000 solar masses) in nearby M-33: http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0107359

  4. lcrowell says:

    The size of a galaxy’s SMBH is thought to be a determining factor in the rate of star formation through the evolution of the galaxy. Very large SMBHs result in rapid star formation, while smaller ones result in more modest star formation. The Milky Way with its 4Meg solar mass black hole might represent conditions needed for the formation of stars similar to the sun.

    LC

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