Understanding the environment around the intermediate mass black hole candidate ESO 243-49 HLX-1

N. A. Webb, A. Guérou, B. Ciambur, A. Detoeuf, M. Coriat, O. Godet, D. Barret, F. Combes, T. Contini, Alister W. Graham, T. J. MacCarone, M. Mrkalj, M. Servillat, I. Schroetter, K. Wiersema

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Aims. ESO 243-49 HLX-1, otherwise known as HLX-1, is an intermediate mass black hole (IMBH) candidate located 8′′ (3.7 Kpc) from the centre of the edge-on S0 galaxy ESO 243-49. How the black hole came to be associated with this galaxy, and the nature of the environment in which it resides, remain unclear. Using multi-wavelength observations we aim to investigate the nature of the medium surrounding HLX-1, search for evidence of past mergers with ESO 243-49 and constrain parameters of the galaxy, including the mass of the expected central supermassive black hole, essential for future modelling of the interaction of the IMBH and ESO 243-49. Methods. We have reduced and analysed integral field unit observations of ESO 243-49 that were taken with the MUSE instrument on the VLT. Using complementary multi-wavelength data, including X-shooter, HST, Swift, Chandra and ATCA data, we have further examined the vicinity of HLX-1. We additionally examined the nature of the host galaxy and estimate the mass of the central supermassive black hole in ESO 243-49 using (black hole mass)-(host spheroid) scaling relations and the fundamental plane of black hole activity. Results. No evidence for a recent minor-merger that could result in the presence of the IMBH is discerned, but the data are compatible with a scenario in which minor mergers may have occurred in the history of ESO 243-49. The MUSE data reveal a rapidly rotating disc in the centre of the galaxy, around the supermassive black hole. The mass of the supermassive black hole at the centre of ESO 243-49 is estimated to be 0.5-23 × 107M. Studying the spectra of HLX-1, that were taken in the low and hard state, we determine Hα flux variability to be at least a factor 6, compared to observations taken during the high and soft state. This Hα flux variability over one year indicates that the line originates close to the intermediate mass black hole, excluding the possibility that the line emanates from a surrounding nebula or a star cluster. The large variability associated with the X-ray states of HLX-1 confirms that the Hα line is associated with the object and therefore validates the distance to HLX-1.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA103
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • Galaxies: individual: ESO 243-49
  • Galaxies: kinematics and dynamics
  • Galaxies: nuclei
  • Galaxies: photometry
  • Galaxies: structure
  • Stars: black holes


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