National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

Minor Merger Kicks Supermassive Black Hole into High Gear

| Science

The deep image of Messier 77 taken with the Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC) mounted at the Subaru Telescope. The picture is created by adding the color information from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to the monochromatic image acquired by the HSC. (Credit: NAOJ/SDSS/David Hogg/Michael Blanton. Image Processing: Ichi Tanaka) Original sise (6.6MB)

The galaxy Messier 77 (M77) is famous for its super-active nucleus that releases enormous energy across the electromagnetic spectrum, ranging from x-ray to radio wavelengths. Yet, despite its highly active core, the galaxy looks like any normal quiet spiral. There’s no visual sign of what is causing its central region to radiate so extensively. It has long been a mystery why only the center of M77 is so active. Astronomers suspect a long-ago event involving a sinking black hole, which could have kicked the core into high gear.

To test their ideas about why the central region of M77 beams massive amounts of radiation, a team of researchers at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and the Open University of Japan used the Subaru Telescope to study M77. The unprecedented deep image of the galaxy reveals evidence of a hidden minor merger billions of years ago. The discovery gives crucial evidence for the minor merger origin of active galactic nuclei.

The result is going to be published in the Volume 69 Issue 6 of the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan (I. Tanaka, M.Yagi & Y. Taniguchi 2017, “Morphological evidence for a past minor merger in the Seyfert galaxy NGC 1068”). The research is financially supported by the Basic Research A grant JP16H02166 by the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research program.