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Two ten-billion-solar-mass black holes at the centres of giant elliptical galaxies

Nature volume 480, pages 215218 (08 December 2011) | Download Citation


Observational work conducted over the past few decades indicates that all massive galaxies have supermassive black holes at their centres. Although the luminosities and brightness fluctuations of quasars in the early Universe suggest that some were powered by black holes with masses greater than 10 billion solar masses1,2, the remnants of these objects have not been found in the nearby Universe. The giant elliptical galaxy Messier 87 hosts the hitherto most massive known black hole, which has a mass of 6.3 billion solar masses3,4. Here we report that NGC 3842, the brightest galaxy in a cluster at a distance from Earth of 98 megaparsecs, has a central black hole with a mass of 9.7 billion solar masses, and that a black hole of comparable or greater mass is present in NGC 4889, the brightest galaxy in the Coma cluster (at a distance of 103 megaparsecs). These two black holes are significantly more massive than predicted by linearly extrapolating the widely used correlations between black-hole mass and the stellar velocity dispersion or bulge luminosity of the host galaxy5,6,7,8,9. Although these correlations remain useful for predicting black-hole masses in less massive elliptical galaxies, our measurements suggest that different evolutionary processes influence the growth of the largest galaxies and their black holes.

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N.J.M., C.-P.M, K.G. and J.R.G. are supported by the National Science Foundation. C.-P.M. is supported by NASA and by the Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science, University of California, Berkeley. S.A.W. is supported by NASA through a Hubble Fellowship. Data presented here were obtained using the Gemini Observatory, the W. M. Keck Observatory and the McDonald Observatory. The Gemini Observatory is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation on behalf of the Gemini partnership. The W. M. Keck Observatory is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA. The McDonald Observatory is operated by the University of Texas at Austin. The instrument VIRUS-P was funded by G. and C. Mitchell. Stellar orbit models were run using the facilities at the Texas Advanced Computing Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

Author information


  1. Department of Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA

    • Nicholas J. McConnell
    • , Chung-Pei Ma
    • , Shelley A. Wright
    •  & James R. Graham
  2. Department of Astronomy, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712, USA

    • Karl Gebhardt
    •  & Jeremy D. Murphy
  3. National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tucson, Arizona 85726, USA

    • Tod R. Lauer
  4. Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto, Ontario M5S 3H4, Canada

    • James R. Graham
  5. Department of Astronomy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA

    • Douglas O. Richstone


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N.J.M. carried out the data analysis and modelling. N.J.M, C.-P.M. and S.A.W. wrote the manuscript. C.-P.M. compiled the data for Fig. 3 and oversaw communication among co-authors. S.A.W. analysed OSIRIS data on NGC 3842. K.G. provided GMOS data on NGC 3842 and NGC 4889. K.G. and D.O.R. developed the stellar orbit modelling code. J.D.M. provided VIRUS-P data on NGC 3842. T.R.L. provided photometric data on and image analysis of NGC 3842 and NGC 4889. J.R.G. led the OSIRIS observing campaign for NGC 3842. All authors contributed to the interpretive analysis of the observations and the writing of the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Nicholas J. McConnell or Chung-Pei Ma.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Text and Data, Supplementary Figures 1-7 with legends and additional references.

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    Supplementary Data

    This file contains data for the line-of-sight velocity distributions at various spatial locations in the central regions of galaxies NGC 3842 and NGC 4889.

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