A fundamental relation between compact stellar nuclei, supermassive black holes, and their host galaxies

Laura Ferrarese, Patrick Côté, Elena Dalla Bontà, Eric W. Peng, David Merritt, Andrés Jordán, John P. Blakeslee, Monica Haşegan, Simona Mei, Slawomir Piatek, John L. Tonry, Michael J. West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

305 Scopus citations


Imaging surveys with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) have shown that ≈50%–80% of low- and intermediate-luminosity galaxies contain a compact stellar nucleus at their center, regardless of host galaxy morphological type. We combine HST imaging for early-type galaxies from the ACS Virgo Cluster Survey with ground-based long-slit spectra from KPNO to show that the masses of compact stellar nuclei in Virgo Cluster galaxies obey a tight correlation with the masses of the host galaxies. The same correlation is obeyed by the supermassive black holes (SBHs) found in predominantly massive galaxies. The compact stellar nuclei in the Local Group galaxies M33 and NGC 205 are also found to fall along this same scaling relation. These results indicate that a generic by-product of galaxy formation is the creation of a central massive object (CMO)—either an SBH or a compact stellar nucleus—that contains a mean fraction, ≈0.2%, of the total galactic mass. In galaxies with masses greater than M gal ∼ a few # 10 10 M,, SBHs appear to be the dominant mode of CMO formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L21-L24
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 10 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Black hole physics
  • Galaxies: elliptical and lenticular
  • Galaxies: kinematics and dynamics
  • Galaxies: nuclei
  • Galaxies: structure
  • cD


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