An actively accreting massive black hole in the dwarf starburst galaxy Henize 2-10


Supermassive black holes are now thought to lie at the heart of every giant galaxy with a spheroidal component, including our own Milky Way1,2. The birth and growth of the first ‘seed’ black holes in the earlier Universe, however, is observationally unconstrained3 and we are only beginning to piece together a scenario for their subsequent evolution4. Here we report that the nearby dwarf starburst galaxy Henize 2-10 (refs 5 and 6) contains a compact radio source at the dynamical centre of the galaxy that is spatially coincident with a hard X-ray source. From these observations, we conclude that Henize 2-10 harbours an actively accreting central black hole with a mass of approximately one million solar masses. This nearby dwarf galaxy, simultaneously hosting a massive black hole and an extreme burst of star formation, is analogous in many ways to galaxies in the infant Universe during the early stages of black-hole growth and galaxy mass assembly. Our results confirm that nearby star-forming dwarf galaxies can indeed form massive black holes, and that by implication so can their primordial counterparts. Moreover, the lack of a substantial spheroidal component in Henize 2-10 indicates that supermassive black-hole growth may precede the build-up of galaxy spheroids.

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Figure 1: Henize 2-10.
Figure 2: The active nucleus and ionized gas in Henize 2-10.
Figure 3: Young super-star clusters in Henize 2-10.


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A.E.R. is grateful for many discussions on this work, in particular with M. Whittle, J. Ulvestad, M. Goss, S. Kannappan, J. Greene, R. Hickox, A. Evens, R. O’Connell, R. Chevalier, A. Seth, E. Gallo, S. Ransom, L. Hunt and J. Simon. A.E.R. acknowledges support from a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship, and the University of Virginia through a Governor’s Fellowship and a Dissertation Acceleration Fellowship. G.R.S. acknowledges support for this work by NASA through the Chandra X-ray Observatory Center, which is operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory for and on behalf of NASA. K.E.J. acknowledges support from the NSF through a CAREER award and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation through a Packard Fellowship. Support was provided by NASA through a grant from the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. This research has made use of data obtained from the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory Data Archives.

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A.E.R. reduced the HST/NICMOS images, synthesized the multi-wavelength data, and led the analysis, interpretation, and writing of the paper. G.R.S. analysed the Chandra data, and helped with the interpretation and writing of the paper. K.E.J. led the HST/NICMOS and VLA proposals. K.E.J. and C.L.B. reduced and analysed the VLA data. All authors discussed the results and presentation of the paper.

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Correspondence to Amy E. Reines.

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Reines, A., Sivakoff, G., Johnson, K. et al. An actively accreting massive black hole in the dwarf starburst galaxy Henize 2-10. Nature 470, 66–68 (2011).

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