Stumped Scientists: How Can a Giant Black Hole Exist in a Very Small Galaxy?

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Reines / NASA

This newly discovered galaxy is like the rebel child that breaks all the rules.

Astronomers have discovered Henize 2-10, a small dwarf galaxy 30 million light years away from Earth. Stumbling upon new galaxies is so common that scientists thought this one would be more of the same. But Henize 2-10 contains an astronomical secret – a supermassive hidden black hole.

(More on TIME.com: See how anyone can help classify galaxies.)

The small galaxy exhibits none of the signs of a typical galaxy that contains a black hole, such as a bulge of stars. But astronomers can tell there’s a giant black hole in Henize 2-10 by seeing the amount of cosmic matter that it swallows up.

This may not sound very special, we admit. But put the numbers into context, and scientists are left scratching their heads (and you may be too, if you’re not a math fan). Our own relatively average Milky Way galaxy spans 100,000 light-years, and the black hole at our center is about 4 million times the mass of the sun. Henize 2-10 is 3,000 light-years in diameter, more than 30 times smaller than the Milky Way. But its black hole is only 2 times smaller than ours, with a mass 2 million times that of the sun.

(More on TIME.com: See how astronomers discover new planets.)

This new discovery may change our understanding of how black holes and galaxies are interrelated. Conventional science has long thought that the two form simultaneously, growing linearly with each other.

In any case, NewsFeed is pretty sure “tiny galaxy” is an oxymoron. (via Discovery News)

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