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An over-massive black hole in the compact lenticular galaxy NGC 1277


Most massive galaxies have supermassive black holes at their centres, and the masses of the black holes are believed to correlate with properties of the host-galaxy bulge component1. Several explanations have been proposed for the existence of these locally established empirical relationships, including the non-causal, statistical process of galaxy–galaxy merging2, direct feedback between the black hole and its host galaxy3, and galaxy–galaxy merging and the subsequent violent relaxation and dissipation4. The empirical scaling relations are therefore important for distinguishing between various theoretical models of galaxy evolution5,6, and they furthermore form the basis for all black-hole mass measurements at large distances. Observations have shown that the mass of the black hole is typically 0.1 per cent of the mass of the stellar bulge of the galaxy7,8. Until now, the galaxy with the largest known fraction of its mass in its central black hole (11 per cent) was the small galaxy NGC 4486B1,9. Here we report observations of the stellar kinematics of NGC 1277, which is a compact, lenticular galaxy with a mass of 1.2 × 1011 solar masses. From the data, we determine that the mass of the central black hole is 1.7 × 1010 solar masses, or 59 per cent of its bulge mass. We also show observations of five other compact galaxies that have properties similar to NGC 1277 and therefore may also contain over-massive black holes. It is not yet known if these galaxies represent a tail of a distribution, or if disk-dominated galaxies fail to follow the usual black-hole mass scaling relations4,10.

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Figure 1: Optical HST image of the compact lenticular galaxy NGC 1277.
Figure 2: Line-of-sight stellar kinematics of NGC 1277.
Figure 3: The correlation between black-hole mass and near-infrared bulge luminosity, .

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K. Gebhardt and J.L.W. are supported by the US National Science Foundation (NSF-0908639, AST-1102845). K. Gültekin acknowledges support provided by the US National Aeronautics Space Administration (GO0-11151X, G02-13111X) and the Space Telescope Science Institute (HST-GO-12557.01-A). The Hobby-Eberly Telescope is a joint project of the University of Texas at Austin, the Pennsylvania State University, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope is named in honour of its principal benefactors, William P. Hobby and Robert E. Eberly.

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Authors and Affiliations



R.C.E.v.d.B. designed the survey and carried out the data analysis and the modelling. R.C.E.v.d.B. and G.v.d.V. wrote the manuscript. A.v.d.W. carried out the image analysis. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the observations and the writing of the paper.

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Correspondence to Remco C. E. van den Bosch.

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van den Bosch, R., Gebhardt, K., Gültekin, K. et al. An over-massive black hole in the compact lenticular galaxy NGC 1277. Nature 491, 729–731 (2012).

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